HSTCMP 247 A: Global Health Histories: Colonial Medicine, Public Health, and International Health in the Global South

Autumn 2023
TTh 3:30pm - 5:20pm / MEB 246
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Learn about the roots of the modern global health movement and the origins of current responses to the COVID-19 disease crisis by examining how governments, organizations, and people intervened in medicine and public health in the past.


A useful article about this course can be found here.

Course Description

This course traces the history and politics of overseas interventions in medicine and public health from the pre-modern period to the present COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, it reconstructs the historical origins of the modern global health movement, highlighting the movement's roots in practices of colonialism and empire-building, the rise of international commerce and industrial capitalism, the development of international philanthropy, and efforts to secure and protect national borders during epidemics and other public health and humanitarian crises. As a class, we will ask whether relationships forged through colonialism continue to structure international medical interventions and the interactions of foreign health professionals, local experts, and patients in the modern global south. We will also examine the ideologies, institutions, ethics, and practices of international health during much of the twentieth century, questioning to what extent the more recent global health movement represents a new and distinct approach. Finally, we will study how patients, communities, healers, and government officials in the global south have experienced, supported, and resisted international medical interventions in the past. By studying this history both from the top down and the bottom up, we will develop a clear understanding of how the past informs the present in the contemporary global health movement, shaping both its achievements and its limitations. We will also consider how a historical approach may help experts address complex political and ethical concerns within the global health movement.

Outline of Assignments:

PLEASE NOTE: You must complete and pass all assignments in order to pass the course.

PapersYou will write two 4-page papers in this course. These will serve as exercises in historical writing, analysis, and interpretation based on primary sources. The first paper will focus on Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year as well as the primary source documents included in Kris Lane’s Pandemic in Potosí. You compare these accounts of epidemics and connect them to broader themes from the first half of the course. In the second paper you will analyze one or more of the documentaries included in the syllabus, connecting them to course themes and to Mariola Espinosa's Epidemic Invasions. More information about these assignments will be forthcoming.


Midterm and Final Exams--The exams in this course will not look like traditional, closed-book, timed exams. Rather, they will be position papers in which you will draw on lectures, readings, and other materials to make an argument. The midterm will cover course content through the end of week five. The final will engage content from the second half of the course and will ask you to consider how the global health movement should be structured, and how it should go about improving the lives of others. In other words, these exams are an opportunity for you to reflect on what you have learned in the course, demonstrate your knowledge, and apply this knowledge of the past to urgent questions about the present and future. More instructions will be forthcoming. If you attend in-person lectures or view pre-recorded lectures consistently, participate in discussions, and keep up with the readings and online activities, you should do fine.


Activity ReflectionsIn addition to completing the assigned readings and viewing lectures, you will be asked many weeks to explore a series of resources available online. These include documentaries, films, online museum exhibitions, and collections of primary sources created by historical actors themselves. On Saturdays you will be asked to submit by 11:59 p.m. a minimum 250-word (one-page, double-spaced) reflection on that week’s online resources. Your reflections need not be examples of highly polished, formal writing, but you should put considerable thought into them. In these reflections I am most interested in seeing how you would relate the materials to the broader themes of the course, the lectures, and the readings. Please convey to me how you would connect these dots and what you have learned from these activities. A preliminary list of these resources is included in this syllabus; definitive instructions will be made available in the Canvas modules. You must complete and submit 6 out of 8 reflections over the course of the quarter.


ParticipationYou will be graded on your participation in our quiz sections. It is important that students contribute to these discussions, as you will learn a great deal from each other. Please do not feel shy about speaking. For those who are nervous about speaking up, please remember that while thoughtful, brilliant, insightful comments are certainly appreciated, they are neither required nor expected. You can contribute just as much by asking a question or seeking clarification.  Chances are that if there’s something you don’t understand, other students in class are confused as well. If you are unable to attend discussion sections for any reason, you will be able to make up that work by viewing the recorded session and posting a discussion post with your contribution.


Catalog Description:
Traces the roots of the modern global health movement by examining the history of overseas interventions in medicine and public health from the fifteenth century to the present. Focuses primarily on Latin America while including case studies on Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific. Offered: A.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
April 15, 2024 - 6:09 am