Geosophia is nothing else than the knowledge of the qualities of the earth, and the knowledge of these qualities by those living amongst them.

Such was the synopsis of Johannes Christophorus Homann’s Dissertation entitled Medicinae Cum Geosophia Nexu, quam auspice deo propotio.

Written in Latin around 1720-1724, the title of this work translates to “The medical-geosophia connection, as proposed under the auspices of God”.

Homann is the first to define in writing a popular belief held for the time, which states that theosophy, geography, anthropology, health and medicine are all embraced by a single field known as Geosophia or geosophy.  The roots of this term are ‘Geo’ for ‘earth’, and ‘sophia’ for ‘knowing’ and ‘wisdom’.


This belief was very different from the much older, more traditional teachings of geomancy.  Geomancy essentially was a practice that required the art of predicting specific attributes for a given place or region.  Whereas geosophy involved the practice of observing and then explaining natural features and events based on previous knowledge and experience, geomancy involved the production of lines, points, circles, squares and other forms on a piece of paper or writing surface which are then interpreted and developed into some sort of message with special meaning.  Geosophy was linked to the art of map making, in particular precision map making skills which made use of geometry and mathematics and at times looked at the various unique forms of nature as expressions of divine art.  Geomancy was the search for meaning of the shapes and forms evolved from various clues provided, using mathematics as well, but in a more metaphysical way and often with sacred geometry  underlying its philosophy and ideology.  Geosophy usually adhered to a belief in the classical Christian God.  Geomancy relied more upon the natural God, or G-d, or spirit, or Creator, or Universal Energy.


Definitions of Geosophia, a term primarily of German use and application, in two European Foreign Language Dictionaries.

During its earliest years of use, from about 1729 to 1785, the term geosophy was considered synonymous with theosophy, even though the latter makes a direct reference to theos or God, whereas the former only refers to Earth.  Such a use of the term ‘geosophy’ during this time appeased both religious and non-religious groups, and in New York, or more accurately stated, New Netherlands history, it satisfied the pantheistic nature of the religious and non-religious settlers who believed in this natural philosophy tradition.  The first settlers of this region tended to believe in natural philosophy much the same way–the belief that God was, is and shall always be a part of nature.


The most religiously minded settlers devoted to natural theology considered nature to be a form of Divine Art.  Early New York female botanist Jane Colden, for example, demonstrated her attachment to the natural signs for plants and their uses, features important to her due to her work in plant identification (see Jane’s Plant Numerology).  In a review of the plants discussed by the Jesuit missionaries trying to convert America Indians in Canada, we find writings that demonstrate a fascination with plants and plant parts that bore the signs of trinity–for example a leaf with three lobes, and a plant bearing three kinds of leaves, both considered defining features for the sassafras tree.

Augustine Hermann (1605-1686), Counselor and metaphysician for Elizabeth Philips

The late 17th and early 18th centuries also defined a period of time when mysticism was honored, and the most important mystic of all locally, Jakob Boehme, had developed a popular movement along the Hudson River, involving members of the Filipse family.    The most traditional Boehmites supported his teachings of alchemy as a spiritual philosophy, with the mercury, sulphur and earth of Paracelsus considered representative of the various physical, spiritual and soul related parts of the body.     Another set of followers for this New Paracelsian movement were the Helmontians, Dutch individuals who took to the metaphysical claims in medicine made by the famous Dutch chemist Van Helmont, the famous professor from a Dutch University.


John Dee (1527-1608/9, source: wikipedia)

But there was also the philosophy of the British playing important roles in these social belief changes.  Christian Alchemist John Dee was an English Alchemist who was spreading his version of New Paracelsian philosophy to religious leader John Winthrop, Jr. of Connecticut.  From here it probably spread into the New York region by making its way westward into lower New York, primarily influencing areas east of the Hudson River and well distanced from the more traditionally motivated City of New York located to the south.  This manner of spread for new philosophies would continue to be seen in the years ahead, for example the next new form of medical electricity faith which took the route from Connecticut to New York in 1797.


In addition to Boehme, Van Helmont and Dee, there was the philosophy of a Bermudian scholar who removed to Harvard around 1649 to study Christian Alchemy.  George Starkey’s philosophy came a result of his education in the traditional writings on alchemy accompanied by his own personal communications with God, as he attempted to create the perfect philosopher’s stone, or as he called it “ens veneris”.  He managed to succeed in this venture by 1651, and passed on his discoveries to the most important chemist for the time Robert Boyle, but never got the full support and recognition he had hoped for (perhaps because Starkey  claim to have received many of his ideas from God Himself, at least according to his personal notes that were reviewed and republished 10 years ago; this could have made Boyle feel a little uncertain about Starkey’s once he read these lines in Starkey’s diaries/lab books; nevertheless Boyle took this idea and produced a similar iron based version of ‘ens veneris‘ with it, the most popular outcome of this piece of history for which Starkey gets no credit for . . . c’est la vie/vitre).  So, like other New Paracelsian ways of thinking, his philosophy remained more a part of the local oral and handwritten history of the region, stored in manuscript form in various archives, not as part of any written and officially published history.


John Baptiste Van Helmont (1579-1644, source: wikipedia)

The Ens or Entia, power of being, was an important idea critical to how medicine was practiced during the 17th century.  It became very important to Homann’s philosophical interpretations of the world as a cartographer due to his belief that plants grew in regions where they were needed–a traditional, very pastoral way of interpreting man’s relationship with the wilderness.


Friedrich Hoffman (1660-1742, source: wikipedia)

By the end of the 18th century, several scientists interested in these philosophical principles were also developing their own philosophies about health and disease.  One such writer was Friedrich Hoffman, a religious leader, chemist, mechanist, and new form of alchemist.   His associate and counterpart for the time was once again Van Helmont.  Together their preachings helped promote ideas about another form of the entia of plants–their essence or smell, or essential oil.  Considered the fifth element of plants by neo-Paracelsians, its values were considered alongside those for earth, air, fir and water when it came to healing.    As noted in my research on Dr. Cornelius Osborn, ca. 1745-1783 medical practitioner, both Hoffman and Van Helmont were popular to early American medical practitioners who wrote, taught and practiced their beliefs along the Hudson River Valley of New York during the mid to late 1700s.


Herbalists Nicolas Culpeper (1616-1654), John Gerarde (1545-1611), and John Parkinson (1567-1650)

Some of the most important plant medicine philosophers for the New World and European medicine in general included Christian Astrologer and herbalist Nicolas Culpeper, along with John Gerard and John Parkinson.   An herbal by Matthioli also existed in one of the local Dutch settlers’ libraries of the Hudson Valley.  It was through the work of Culpeper however that many of these latin writings became readable by those only trained in English.  Likewise for author and famed chemist Robert James, an apothecarian favored by Royalty whose translations of the famous Latin books by Sydenham made it possible for early American physicians to make sense of the native plants blooming all around them.

Still, it was Johannes Christophor Homann’s study of the philosophy and materialistic presentation of geosophy that served as one of the most important primers to assisting in the evolution of a Hudson Valley medical philosophy, one that was not only based on the more physiographically based traditions of disease theory and healing practices,but also upon the metaphysical components of nature, and the religious qualities of natures symbols, God’s Signs.  These teachings of the earlier natural philosophers were supported worldwide by the influences the Homann family had on the world as cartographers of place and people.   But it was J.C. Homann’s writings that had the most important influences of all-with this dissertation he enabled nature and the natural forms of God to become an important part of both European and early American medicine.

Johann C. Homann was not a mystic like Jakob Boehme.  His philosophy of health and disease was more focused on the physical world, but he recognized the role of God in creating these natural gifts.   Homann’s philosophy therefore was not at all agnostic or atheistic, or completely Newtonian  and mechanical in nature.  Instead, it had a metaphysical aspect that taught us how God through Nature played a role in defining both our health, our diseases, and our potential for discovering much-needed medicines.  To many colonial physicians, it worked well alongside the writings and teachings of religious leader and physician Friedrich Hoffmann.

Like many believers in God, nature was God’s most important gift to us.  Due to the Homann family history, J.C. Homann was very familiar with the physical make up of the world, and so once he took control of the family business in cartography in 1703, he became very interested in exploring the relationship between place and medicine.  He accomplished this successfully with his dissertation, for which he received a medical degree from the university in Halles along with some much-needed support from the church.  This writing also makes reference to a number of individuals who greatly influenced him, their metaphysical philosophies most important to understanding the underlying wisdom of the book and how the field of medical geography came to be as a by-product of J.C. Homann’s Geosophia.

During his schooling, one of Homann’s mentors and teachers, Rudolph Wilhelm Crausius, who wrote the following in an oration to his students, a few years before Homann received his degree in the study of medicine from the university in Halles:

Hippocrates Medicinae parens optimus in eo, qui fe Aesculapii саstris devovit, requirit naturam, locum studis aptum, industriam, tempus, doctrinam, institutionem a puero.

Physician Hippocrates, the father of the best [physicians], who devoted himself to the camp of Aesculapius, requires that nature be a place of study of industry (work), time, doctrines (ways or laws), and the manner of living for the new and the young.


Homann had limited influence for years to come in early American history.  His influences during the last Colonial years were evident, although never mentioned or referred to as such.  The beliefs were their, but their source soon forgotten.

We also don’t see any direct or indirect clues to The Homann family’s influences on United States in general, minus its medical history, until 1815, when a mid-18th century Homann’s map of Mexico played an important role in defining our rights to own and possess the former New France territory of Louisiana.

From William Darby’s 1817 book A Geographical Description of the State of Louisiana

In the years and decades leading up to this moment in American history, Homann’s work was generally used to describe the various continents and countries of the world, producing several Atlases along the way.  The influences of Johanne Christopher’s dissertation on the study of medicine, geography, health and disease would not be seen or felt for another 75 years.  J.C. Homann’s geosophy teachings remained a topic of religious and spiritualism studies, rather than a study of science and nature.  [Note: a brief mention of the “Geosoph” appears on p. 237 of an 1780s writing published in 1790 as part of Neuer Atlas . . . .  1790 and is mentioned in Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek, Volume 106, edited by Friedrich Nicolai, page 105.  No links as of yet are made for this use of the term, but probably existed as “fuel for the fire” in the United States medical geography writings just a few years later.]

Geosophie ~ Theosophie

The following entries in two ca. 1900 German lexicons provide us with insight into the cultural limitations that kept J.C. Homann’s term from becoming commonplace.

Geosophie od[er] Theosophie ᵻ: Molenaar, H., Flugschriften 6.

From Vollständiges Bücher-Lexicon by Christian Gottlob Kayser, Alexander Bliedener, Ernest Amandus Zuchold, Gustav Wilhelm Wuttig, Richardt Haupt, Albert Dressel, Oskar Wetzel, Heinrich Dullo, Heinrich Conrad, August Hilbert, Richard Schmidt, Alfred Dultz.  1908.  p. 141.

Geosophie s. Theosophie. 

From Karl Georgs Schlagwort-katalog: Verzeichnis der im deutschen Buchhandel  erschienenen Bucher und Landkarten in sachlicher Anordung. V. Band 1903-1907.  1. Abteilung.  A-K.  p. 635.


Throughout the remaining 18th century, Homann’s influences were seen with the writings on the healthiness of different parts of the world.  The health of New York and the Hudson Valley as detailed by Cadwallader Colden, the metaphysical take on mechanisms responsible for how medications worked on ailing bodies, the notion that air flow patterns and directions, weather, climate and topography could help define the health of a given region, were all based upon beliefs held by J.C. Homann as well as well as the traditional writings they referred to by Riverius.

Between 1730 and 1750, the writings of Riverius, Hoffman and Homann played very prominent roles in how medicine was being practiced and how the causes for disease were redefined.  With the onset of the Revolutionary War, the exchange of similar knowledge occurred internationally as foreign physicians came to support the side of the Patriots.  This solidified the many teachings that related disease to the endemic and epidemic forms of disease taught by Riverius, and the roles of nature and natural philosophy in disease taught by Hoffman.  By 1796, this allowed the practice and study of medical geography to be developed by New York state physicians, a description of which appears in the very first medical journal published in New York City–Medical Repository.

Along with the works of Hoffman, Riverius and Hippocrates, Homann’s work turned medicine into an extension of the natural sciences (or natural history as they called it then).   With his Dissertation, Medicinae Cum Geosophia Nexu, Homann provides us with the term and  definition for the Geosophen, or Geosophers, and Medicinae Geographica, or Geographic Medicine.  The subsequent spread of this philosophy took several distinct routes during the late 19th century.  As a result, Homann helped to develop or greatly influence several major fields of study, namely:

  • phytomedical geography, and research focused on the importance of local herbal medicines for treating local diseases,
  • anthropology, and its subspecialty medical anthropology–a study of disease and culture
  • medical geography, medical climatology, disease ecology, and the value of disease mapping, and
  • modern geosophy, or the study of sacred places.

Today we can state these influences to be mostly related to the knowledge of the following, promoted as a part of Homann’s dissertation writings:

  • the absence or presence of medicinal plants befitting a region
  • the absence or presence of specific cultural and anthropological ways of being and behaving
  • the absence or presence of specific diseases characteristic of the region and therefore defined as being epidemic or endemic to it
  • the existence and cultural definition of special places, human values placed upon these objects which are defined by their location, form and the occurrence of specific, related human and/or natural events

In a more modern sense, Homann’s term Geosophy was rediscovered or perhaps even reinvented from scratch during the 194os (see wikipedia entry on this term.)  His dissertation on geographical medicine however did have an impact on common knowledge, and therefore over the years has led to the development of three of the most important specialities today in medical geography–geoepidemiology, disease ecology, and spatial epidemiology.  Each of these fields of study benefitted from the knowledge base that Homann’s maps produced for geographers and physicians and the geosophical essay Johannes Christopher produced as a result of his own enlightenment process during the 18th century.



Additions to this site over the last months include two new maps on medical or disease geography

My review of the history of disease mapping and epidemiology is focusing much more on the yellow fever.  This is because yellow fever set the stage for the large-scale production of disease maps seen by the mid-18o0s for global epidemic disease patterns like Asiatic cholera.  Aside from Valentine Seaman’s map of this disease–the first of its kind and already reviewed at this site–are two new examples of how the early yellow fever epidemics were first interpreted by medical geographers (but with no maps produced).  These include:

  • 1799 – Samuel Anderson and the Mystery of Yellow Fever in Curaçao and On Board.
  • 1806 – The Next War – Yellow Fever in Upstate New York and Matthew Brown.  This page in particular addresses the geographic definition of disease issue developing in the United States.  This philosophy of assigned place names for particular diseases was less than 10 years old, and was disputed abroad and even by other physicians located in other parts of the U.S.  The politics underlying to identity of a disease was that place-name also indicated place of cause–either locally or by means of import by way of land and water travel.  Each had its repercussions economically, and in the case of New York, certain families had their reputations at stake due to these arguments.  [See also the long four part tale about John W. Watkins and the tale of “Lake Fever“, not Yellow Fever, a disease common to the region in Western New York he just purchased, with plans for settlement–Watkins Glen or “Salubria“.]

Between 1800 and 1850, the medicine of livestock or what later became veterinary science was developed.  Some of the earliest examples of this (with much more to follow) are provided as:

Synopses on the two sets of disease mapping projects I have been engaged in are provided as distinct pages.  These are for comparing maps that demonstrate similar spatial features or represent similar goals and techniques used for disease mapping,  They are:


Also, for those “addicted” to the use of GIS for mapping population health, more of my research on population health analysis has been posted as well.  These appear as icons posted on various pages summarizing my work or discussing the applications of GIS to modern epidemiological research.  Approximately 200 examples of population health analysis locally and regionally have been provided (approximately one fifth of the results of this project), but are not being promoted at this time.   You can see examples of these at

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Based on 20 years of experience living in the Pacific Northwest as a student, university lecturer, and population health analyst, I am also pulling these “video maps” together to present a single public health topic or theme, for example a Regional Population Health Analysis of the Pacific Northwest.  This project (a work in process related to my National Population Health Grid project) can be reviewed at

REGIONS & HEALTH – the Pacific Northwest as an Example

This represents cutting edge use of GIS and some of my analytic techniques.

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hint:  symbols are links to map videos

Medical Geography and the History and Anthropology of Medicine and Public Health

This site is focused on information, information sources and discoveries made over the years about the history of medical geography. The goal is to improve our understanding of this field, its philosophy and its traditions, and then use this information to develop new applications of GIS applicable to the fields of public health, epidemiology and medicine.

My most recent additions to this site (during the past 6 months) include a number of new discoveries about Hudson Valley medical history. I view the Hudson Valley as the heart of the new medical philosophy and thinking that surfaced between the 1700s and the initiation of the Civil War. Most people envision Philadelphia and Boston as the most important cities related to American medical history and any American related discoveries prior to 1810. Whereas Philadelphia has Benjamin Rush’s accomplishments to brag about, and Boston Dr. John Warren of Harvard to boast, New York had its senator and physician Dr. Samuel Mitchell to pat on the back.

Samuel Latham Mitchell (1764-1831)

Dr. Samuel Mitchell was the “Renaissance Man” of his time due to his training in medicine, the law, politics, philosophy, and all of the natural sciences as a student of the University of Edinburgh. His accomplishments, theories and writings resulted in the transformation of medicine into a study of natural science, beginning with his first year as a professor in 1792 at Columbia College in New York. His numerous intellectual moves and scientific speculations typically earned him a lot of support from the locals, thereby drawing much of the professional and political attention away from other ivy league schools and competitors such as Yale, Harvard, the medical school in Philadelphia.

Mitchell made New York the focus of his work, serving as editor for the journal of its time–Medical Repository. For decades to come, he was considered an expert in numerous fields, including evolutionism, paleontology, geology, chemistry, psychology, meteorology, medical geography, medical topography, astronomy, engineering, and natural philosophy. Whereas Benjamin Rush and others focused mostly on just people and health, Mitchell and his strong New York following focused on the environment and it relationship to people and health.

Due to Mitchell’s work, regional interpretations of disease and health came to be were popular. He and his closest supporters began strongly promoting a new science which he called medical geography. This geographical focus on disease and people was lost once the bacterial theory was born and microbiology, physiology, chemistry, and epidemiology became the focus of much of medicine during the later parts of the 19th century. Until the late 1880s however, geography was as much a part of medicine as the studies of anatomy, physiology or pathology.

All of this changed when the world globe and its various maps were replaced by the microscope and the focus in the bacterium–the microcosm instead of the macrocosm. This paradigm shift did what it could for the best of medicine. But in the end, we alaways need to go back to the origins of many of the philosophies out there about health and disease. For this reason, some portions of this site are devoted to medical geography as a physical science and population health study, others focus on sociocultural aspects of medicine and disease in the Hudson valley, using these findings to help explain how and why new healing faiths are born.

Regarding the important role the Hudson Valley played in United States medical history, until now I have reviewed mostly those physicians noted in the past previously reviewed by other important medical historians and biographers such as Helen Wilkinson Reynolds and Guy Carleton Bailey. My more recent additions focus on individuals not really discovered by previous medical historians, or at least well reviewed by them. These individual made very important contributions to rapidly growing field of medicine from 1785 on. Their impacts on the profession became both regional and national, as this nation itself expanded and its new settlers carried with them this unique knowledge born in the Valley. As a result, a lot of my biographical reviews from this point on are about individuals whom to date have never fully researched or studied.

The first such individual to note is Prince Quack Mannessah. His parents were a converted Mahican father and Algonkin mother who resided near the old Moravian missions site just south of Pine Plains, NY. His grandparents were part of the first Native American clan to ever be completely converted to Christianity, a result of the missionary settlement established around 1740, a decade before they were forced to remove to the Midwest (soon after which, all were killed).

By living according to Christian Indian beliefs, Mannessah resided on land just north of Pine Plains, along with a number of African American servants working for a local farmer who owned a large piece of land. Mannessah took on his family’s heritage and became one of the first “Indian doctors” in this country beginning around 1780 or 1790. Along with others of his heritage residing elsewhere in the United States, his Indian medical philosophy and practice increased in popularity over the years and by 1800 led to the initiation of a major national movement what was called “Indian root doctoring”, a movement which which he continued for the next 60 years and a movement revived and still popular following the Civil War.

Whereas many of the Indian doctors written about practiced a Europeanized form of pop culture medicine referred to as Indian root doctoring, it is only the first practitioners like Mannessah who truly lived and practiced according to their traditions. This opportunity for me to capture his life story is a rarity in United States and New York medical history. It provides us with information that fills an important gap that exists in American medical history and the influences of Native American culture and philosophy on United States medicine.

A map of Salubria or Watkins Glen from about 1778. The building structures are Iroquois Long Houses.

Next there is valetudinarian John Watkins, Esq. He was not a physician at all, but rather a lawyer (“Esquire” who married into the Livingston family–another family of “Esquires”) and as a result came to promote the value of land and the ability to adapt to your living environment as the way to assure good health and longevity. Like his in-law relative Chancellor Robert Livingston, John Watkins was a speculator of sorts who developed a partnership with Royal Flint, and then obtained the rights to establish settlements or “colonies” on a large tract of land in western New York. His company of investors, all from Kingston, NY, promoted this region as part of the great westward expansion for the US during the late 1790s. The most impressive piece of this land and its history is Watkin’s Glen.

A part of Watkins Glen

John Watkins used his knowledge and his family name to promote his own philosophy about a fever unique to his new born hamlet of Salubrai. He termed this disease Lake Fever. Lake Fever was possibly an early arrival of the yellow fever into the most inner parts of the North American continent. The ways in which Watkins interpreted life in the wilderness, the means to stay healthy by residing in such regions, and the way to live as a farmer and stewart in this part of the Western States, all helped him form his view of the most proper way to survive in this new environment. Therefore, his writing provides us with important insights in the new medical topography movement being established in American medical history.

Other important pages to point out at this site are the various disease maps I have added as a part of my ongoing review of the history of disease mapping. I have now reviewed most of the most important disease maps ever produced in the history of the medical field called medical geography. This time I focused on the history of the first ever map published in this country on Yellow Fever and the many maps that followed decades later which focused on Asiatic cholera.

The second of Valentine Seaman’s Yellow Fever map, overlooking the east river at the end of Wall Street

My coverage of these maps used to identify the causes for disease begins with what is possibly the first such map ever published, that of New York/New Jersey physician Valentine Seaman’s map on Yellow Fever. Doctor Seaman mapped the progress of this disease at the wharfs in lower Manhattan. This map is presented and then analyzed to provide us with insight into the logic of his interpretation of disease. Unlike other articles about this map, it ends up Dr. Seaman’s logic was not at all in error. Neither Seaman nor others like the famous Benjamin Rush were at all correct with their deductions about the cause for yellow fever. The notion that it was either locally induced or brought from afar as a form of contagion were both very much popular. The correct cause for yellow fever and lake fever wouldn’t be understood for almost a century. Meanwhile, one of the most common arguments in writing appearing in the popular and medical press focused on this important public health issue. Philadelphia epidemiologist Benjamin Rush’s explanation for this disease was that it was due to putrid coffee beans being imported into this county. Seaman claimed the same but felt it had much to do with the smell of the decaying debris covering the mudy ground exposed around the docks during low tides. Only a ship surgeon would come close to discovering the true cause for this disease (also covered in this blog site), a claim which unfortunately no one else in the medical field ever paid much attention to.

I also reviewed the extensive work on malignant or Asiatic cholera performed by John C. Peters. Once a strong homeopathy advocate and editor for this country’s primary journal for this field, American Journal of Homoeopathy, Peters began his career as a physician as an MD also practicing homeopathy around 1837/1845. After 15 years of practice, Peters suddenly changed his mind about the homeopathic profession,and in 1859/1860 he became a strong promoter of sanitarian or hygienic medicine. He was also a strong advocate of research in medical topography, medical climatology, and disease mapping. Later, along with several colleagues, a research team was formed by the US government that produced the most comprehensive and most successful series of maps ever made on the behavior of Asiatic cholera around the country as well as globally. Peters’ work was promoted and sponsored by his employer from 1860 onward, but the most influential reports were produced just before strong support for the bacterial theory for disease developed in the late 1880s. Their most famous writings with disease maps came about in 1883, the maps of which are presented here.

Accompanying this section on Peter’s work is another series cholera maps detailing the various ways the medical cartographers tried to illustrate their interpretation of this global epidemic, presented on various pages. Amongst these maps are examples of the some of first temporal series of disease maps ever produced.

Other maps in this section include:

  • Judson’s map of the Mississippi River and Valley, with dates of infection for each town depicting the temporal pattern used by this disease to infect the interior valley of the US
  • Alfred Stille’s summary of his findings, meant to parallel Peter’s work and produce a map of the same, but with some interesting differences noted
  • Contemporary medical geographer Gerald F. Pyle’s review of the history of Cholera and what it tells us about modeling disease patterns and predicting future disease spatial behaviors.


Benjamin Rush’s 1786 Three “Species of Settlers” – an early Sequent Occupancy Theory

Also, a series of very important articles related to the study of the history of medical geography are provided. . .

  • I begin this section with a page devoted to Benjamin Rush’s 1786 rendering of a philosophy that would soon be forgotten. This philosophy re-emerged a century later by another series of Midwestern medical geography writers, beginning with Derwent Whittlesey. These late 19th century geographers refered to this concept as sequent occupancy theory.
  • The second page entails an article that possibly has the first formal use of the term “medical geography” by an American author; it demonstrates how this philosophy came to be in the United States between 1795 and 1800. It was produced by congressman and physician extraordinaire, Dr. Samuel Mitchell, and dominated the medical profession for the next 50 years. Mitchell was the primary inventor, initiator and long time promoter of the many philosophies and future sciences linked to environmental medicine, health and disease. He created the septon (same root as sepsis)–referring to the smell and gas emitted from a rotting wound or biological mass. This invisible substance or particle he considered to be the cause for many otherwise inexplicable disease patterns–it was the “phlogiston” for this time in American medical history.

Another series of pages were produced that are devoted to regionalism and disease mapping. Each is written by an important person in the history of American medical geography. These include the following:

  • The very first renderings of medical geography articles reflecting regionalism for specific parts of this country as a whole (regions covered: Ohio-Virginia border, Marietta, Ohio, (with an early application of statistical epidemiology) and May’s Lick, Kentucky, by the famous Daniel Drake)
  • The very first renderings of New York medical geography demonstrating the various aspects of this philosophy shared by the writers, regardless of place (the regions covered this time through are mostly western New York ). These reports were requested by Governor Dewitt Clinton, in accordance with the related public health laws recently passed by the state.
  • Medical naturalist Jean Baptist Leblond’s Climate Zones and related disease patterns based on the ongoing yellow fever observations, published in 1806
  • An early description of the latitude theory for disease patterns
  • An example of the development of the alternative medical philosophies developing around this time, focusing on Dr. Charles Caldwell’s strong pro-medical topography/miasma-theory. His arguments represent a mixture of regular and “irregular” medical beliefs. Contagionists were at odds with the anti-contagionists during this time. Caldwell’s beliefs and work would later lead to the development of a number of other controversial alternative practices, such hydropathy and phrenology as parts of regular and irregular medicine, as well as the demise of the Transylvania Medical School opened down in the Bible State of Kentucky.



Finally, I have also initiated a section devoted to one of the stumbling blocks I encountered researching these projects–journals and books with articles that exclude or have poorly scanned maps or illustrations. This was due to actions taken by the documents imaging staff producing the electronic copies. To many librarians, the word is more important than the figure or illustration unfortunately. For medical cartography researchers like myself, this is very disappointing since the opposite is usually the case for our work.

The frustrations of map reading – incomplete maps at Google Books

It is important to note here that these scans would not have been possible were it not for the support of Google Books and the engagement of five major university libraries in this country. So this is not a major criticism; it is better to have something to read and study than nothing at all.

Due to Google Books, the equipment needed to scan these documents exists at several of the most important educational institutions in the U.S. However, the habit of producing unscanned, incompletely scanned, or poorly scanned maps because the inserts and fold-outs are of a different format perhaps needs to be re-evaluated, and a compromise needs to be made. It is frustrating to look up a book with the answer to your questions on a specific page or picture found in the book, only to learn that including that in the scan would be too troublesome. It’s like finding Vesalius’s book on anatomy, Richard Smellie’s book on child delivery, or a 16th century guide to chirurgical instruments, only to learn that all you can do is read the text page accompanying the figures, and not be able to review those figures because they are fold-outs. We know these images can be scanned due to their inclusion in many of the original historical references I have reviewed at

Phthisis=”consumption”, which usually referred to tuberculosis

Finally, I have to note that my concern is that the chances for obtaining copies of these maps in the future might forever be lost. Since medical geography maps are scarce, especially before 1880, and in danger of being removed from references illegally (a too common practice during the last few decades) due to the money they can bring on a black market, these historically important maps need to be digitized and their original sources identified and placed under better security (even historical societies and university rare book rooms have a habit of losing these valuable documents).

In terms of my other subjects, I have added significantly to my section on researching and charting population health, with numerous examples of how to perform more informative reviews of age-gender and disease, and a little on a new series of statistical formulas I developed for researching exceptionally large medical populations (>1 million, but for this review >100M). These methodologies are meant to be applied to a new form of research that can be performed regarding population health studies.

Recently I produced another way, another series of formulas for illustrating disease (using the traditional SAS formulas for DEM-like modeling). It is incredibly simple, at times too simple to seem real and true. It will probably take me about 2 more months to perfect, after which, I’ll re-write it for ArcGIS applications.

(Interested in this nationwide look at disease and place? see also another bit of new population health technology I created but not in use: , and

To date, little to no time has been spent developing methods to review exceptionally large populations by any of the industries, universities or corporations that I have been involved with. The standard has been to sample a population and run your basic statistical techniques. These methodologies I consider to be less informative than I believe the statistical profiling of a population should be. Thus during the past decade or two, whenever possible, my methods have focused on small area analysis, on-the-fly GIS work in the field (see my west nile case studies for more on this), and large-scale studies of demography using 1-year age groups. I make use mostly of my own formulas and methodologies, which were developed by way of some GIS-RS work I was once engaged in. These define statistically significant differences at the 1-year age level for population stats (much like using edge detection formulas for b/w SLAR imagery work, or testing for aspect in a topographic map). The displays of my findings speak for themselves.

As an example of how this method is applied, imagine for a moment you have a population with a higher rates of something such as diabetes. The only problem is, all you know is the diabetes in high. You don’t know exactly which population it is higher in–the young, the old, the middle aged, the pre-retirement years workers, those from a specific ethnic group, so we look this up by reviewing distributions in more detail, and learn that it is women in their 30s that are making the population’s risk higher.

But the best example I believe related to this one unique ICD I reviewed in the past. My 1-year age-specific method of mapping counts and prevalence for ICD9 729.2* (the African culture practice of modifying the body in a specific way) revealed something never really published before. I discovered there were 4 age groups with exceptionally high prevalence rates for the Traditional African and now African American practice of infibulation and the other related “cosmetic” culturally defined surgical practices under this ICD (see my sociocultural syndromes page). This practice is considered necessary only due to cultural morées. It is not necessity to living in the United States. Yet two groups undergo this practice every year in this country–children under 6 years of age and adults 16-32 years of age (with 32 yo peak). The other two age peaks for this ICD are 47 yo and 80 yo. This is a very stable age relationship that has continued in this country for more than 10 years.

Thanks to WordPress, I can report that after just 18-20 months in the making, this site has surpassed the 50K mark for number of visitors, and is now averaging 175 hits per day, with the following distribution globally during the past 3o days.

By the way–so I don’t mislead anyone–the following is considered the first medical or disease map in the world press. (My work on this page is usually focused on the American press.)

See: Social Science & Medicine, vol. 50, issues 7 & 8, 1 April 2000, pp. 915-921.

Finke’s 1792 map of human diseases: the first World Disease Map?

Frank A. Barrett.

The large multiple legged area defined by the cartographer appears to demarcate safe routes of travel for troops, keeping them away from shorelines and large river edges–due to the miasma. . . high elevation areas–due to fatigue and apoplexy . . . and regions far into the continental interior, where diseases like scurvy, beri beri and goiter prevail. These paths travelled may also depict routes followed by specific diseases like measles, small pox, and many others caused by contagion.