HIST 388: Disease and Public Health in American History
Disease has never been merely a biological phenomenon. Instead, all diseases—including COVID-19—are deeply social phenomena: in their origins, in their spread, in their impacts, and in the responses they engender among populations. Disease is also shaped by and can in turn catalyze larger historical currents.
This course aims to analyze the many ways that disease, medical theory, public health practice, and policy have shaped the American experience, with an emphasis on the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries. We will consider how disease has been understood at different times; how disease has been employed as a metaphor in political rhetoric; how ideas about immunity and susceptibility have produced understandings of race, citizenship, and national belonging; how epidemic events have mobilized initiatives in public health and health activism; and how tropes of communicable disease have manifested in American popular culture. At the end of the quarter, we will consider how history helps us to understand the many issues surrounding COVID-19.
The course will emphasize reading and discussion. Required texts include: Charles Rosenberg, The Cholera Years (University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition, 1987); Linda Nash, Inescapable Ecologies (University of California Press, 2006); Eula Biss, On Immunity (Graywolf Press, 2015). Additional readings will be available via the course Canvas page and on-line through UW Libraries. Students will write three short papers, although there will also be an option for a collaborative project. This will be a synchronous course.