Ghost Stories

One of the most compelling pieces of narrative history is The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World.

photo of Praveena Fernes in Thailand
Praveena Fernes

Author Steven Johnson charts an investigative tale with echoes of today’s pandemic in The Ghost Map, mapping the source of the horrific cholera outbreak in 19th-century London. Protagonist John Snow coordinated with Henry Whitehead, a local curate and trusted community member, to collect data on residents’ daily habits and the incidence of the disease. As pioneers of epidemiology, Snow and Whitehead used maps to document street-level knowledge. Their interdisciplinary collaboration and unfettered curiosity inspired my path as a data journalist and health researcher.

Their emphasis on community-based knowledge to solve a public health crisis parallels my innate respect for local people as experts of their lived experiences. My citizen science approach involves community members leading research projects.

“It has been intriguing to live and work in different parts of the world’s ecosystems from urban American metropolises to rural Thai wetlands.”

PRAVEENA FERNES, Tulane’s 24th Marshall Scholar and a Fulbright Scholar

Recently, I’ve been working on Visible Ghosts of Isaan, a virtual installation at Visible Ghosts illuminates villagers’ evolving relationship to the Mun River and wetlands in Thailand over the past quarter century. Since its construction in 1992, the Rasi Salai Dam on the Mun River has displaced people, violated their rights and destroyed natural resources.

This fall, I moved to the place that first sparked my fascination with public health storytelling to study political ecology at SOAS University of London. Then, I head to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to study the way microbes play out in the body politic and the unfolding story of today’s most terrifying pandemic — and how it’s changing science, cities and the modern world.