Helene Castenbrandt

Helene Castenbrandt


My primary research area is history of medicine. In my research I have worked with different topics such as health transformations during the 19th and 20th centuries, mortality and epidemics, sickness funds and health insurance, as well as health among elderly from an historical perspective. I work with both quantitative and qualitative methods.

I got my doctorate from University of Gothenburg in Sweden in October 2012, and my thesis is entitled Dysentery in Sweden 1750-1900: the demographic and medical history of a disease. During my undergraduate studies, I studied both history and mathematics. In addition, I also have a master’s degree in history of medicine from University of Glasgow, Scotland.

I am part of the Bio History Group at the Copenhagen Centre for Health Research in the Humanities (CoRe) here at the Saxo Institute. My stay in Copenhagen has been funded through the Swedish Research Council’s grant International Postdoc.

Primære forskningsområder

  • History of medicine
  • Historical demography
  • Population history
  • Health transformations
  • Mortality and morbidity
  • History of health insurances
  • History of health care
  • Aging in history

Aktuel forskning

In my current research project, I study morbidity in the late 19th and early 20th century.

This project aims to study on the one hand changes in morbidity and on the other changes concerning what was regarded as an illness in relation to the emerging welfare state in Europe. Chronologically, the focus is on the turn of the century 1900 and the first half of the 20th century. Sweden is at the core of the study, as the Swedish source material offers unique opportunities to study shifts in ill-health and morbidity. From a public health perspective, this period is of great importance as it marks the breaking point between a time when mortality in the western world was dominated by infectious diseases and a time when mortality more and more became dominated by non-communicable diseases. This shift is usually called the epidemiological transition. Previous research has concluded that this change took place at the same time as mortality rates declined sharply; however, it is unclear as to what impact these changes had on actual morbidity. Since morbidity is a relative concept, this study will emphasize the tension between actual and perceived illness. Unlike previous research, this proposed study will highlight both women and men's health. In addition to putting Sweden on the European health map, a gender perspective will help to shed new light on European development. At the same time, present-day health patterns will be given a historical perspective.

With the industrial revolution, a system of private health insurance societies (sickness funds) emerged, which offered labourers with membership compensation for sick leave. Archive material from sickness funds therefor provides great opportunities for studying morbidity. Previous research has only been able to study morbidity among men, but with the Swedish sources the health of both men and women can be analyzed. The project will analyze both national aggregated statistics and individual level data. How the development of this insurance system affected the general perception of illness will be studied through journal articles, as well as government investigation material. By adding new knowledge on morbidity to existing facts about mortality, the project will provide a better understanding of the differences and changes in public health.

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