Barbara’s dissertation in progress is entitled, “Avian Influenza: Opening Pandora’s Box at the Roof of the World”. By means of historical analyses of avian influenza, a case study, and oral interviews with scientists, Barbara’s dissertation examines bird flu at the human-animal interface. Beginning with the “fowl plague” in the late nineteenth century, the dissertation examines change over time in how scientists came to understand avian influenza.
Throughout, historical accounts of human influenza are parallel with reports of flu in animal species such as pigs, horses, and birds. When virologists first proposed a link between human and bird viruses, both veterinarians and medical practitioners dismissed the idea. It is a story about a paradigm shift in scientific understanding. The primary actors in the case study include an aquatic bird that migrates over the Himalayas to a large lake on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (Roof of the World); a railroad to Tibet that traverses the vast permafrost landscape; an avian virus that first appeared in 1997; scientific knowledge networks; and people and geopolitics.
Barbara examines the points of controversy about the role of bird migration in spreading avian flu viruses into new geographic areas. Although remote in location, Qinghai is a critical place to understand the interconnections of history, bioscience, ecology, climate change, and global health. The research will deepen knowledge about the ecological pathways of viruses and the role of interdisciplinary knowledge networks in their discovery. Actors and events at Qinghai serve as powerful heuristic tools to understand the past and the present of avian influenza.