HSTCMP 248 A: The AIDS Epidemic: A Global History

Spring 2023
TTh 3:00pm - 4:50pm / MGH 295
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in front of Washington monument, D.C., first displayed in 1987. To learn more and explore all 48,000 panels of the quilt online, see here Links to an external site. Image credit: National Institute of Health, Wikipedia.

Tues. and Thurs. 3-4:50 pm              Professor Lynn M. Thomas

MGH 295                                             Office: History Department, Smith 212B

5 credits with "W" credit option

Office Hours: after class and by appointment in-person or on Zoom; email me at lynnmt@uw.edu to arrange a meeting

Zoom Link for Office Hours: https://washington.zoom.us/j/8953579053

Welcome! This course examines the AIDS pandemic as a key event in global history.

The epidemic outbreak of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – the virus that causes AIDS – is one of the major historical events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Tragically, AIDS has killed 40 million people to date, roughly the same number killed in the First World War. In addition, about 38 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS.[1] The spread of HIV has transformed human history, giving rise to new forms of social relations, activism, international philanthropy, and academic inquiry.

In this course, we’ll study the global history of the AIDS epidemic with a focus on the United States and East and Southern Africa. We’ll also consider aspects of the epidemic in Haiti, Cuba, China, and Russia. This course will begin with the first identification of AIDS patients in the 1980s. We’ll then move back in time to consider the histories of illness, medicine, gender, sexuality, poverty, and inequality that enabled the epidemic to have such devastating and uneven effects. We’ll then examine the history of HIV/AIDS within specific communities and activist efforts to combat its spread and provide treatment for those infected and ill. We’ll take the history of AIDS up to the present day, to see how it continues to unfold and now intertwine with the COVID-19 epidemic, reshaping our world from everyday practices to global initiatives.

HIV/AIDS demands an ambitious and multi-sited perspective; this class provides it. Co-designed by a historian of Africa and one of Europe – both with expertise in the politics of gender and sexuality, this course takes a big and broad view of the AIDS epidemic. Together, we’ll explore five central themes:

  • the AIDS epidemic as a key episode in the twentieth- and twenty-first-century history of globalization;
  • the co-constitutive relationship between politics, culture, science and medicine;
  • intersections of race, class, gender, citizenship, and sexuality, and how they affect health outcomes and inequalities;
  • the achievements and challenges of political activism; and
  • the similarities, differences, and interconnections between the AIDS pandemic and the world’s newest pandemic, COVID-19.

Learning Objectives

This course will strengthen your skills of analysis and communication. History, as a discipline, teaches skills that are essential to your success as a university student, professional employee, and citizen of the world. These skills include:

  • distinguishing between primary and secondary sources and examining them carefully and critically;
  • conducting research through oral history interviews as well as textual, audio, and visual sources;
  • understanding and reconstructing historical contexts and how they encompass change over time, causality, contingency, and complexity;
  • explaining how individual lives and large social structures shape one another;
  • constructing evidence-based arguments in written and oral form; and
  • producing effective and engaging research essays and podcasts.

Class sessions and assignments will help hone all of these skills.


I’m grateful to Professor Laurie Marhoefer and PhD Student Taylor Soja for co-developing this course with me over the past four years. Thanks too to UW Librarian Theresa Mudrock for supporting this course.

I also acknowledge that the University of Washington is housed on land of the Coast Salish peoples, land that touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. Their ancestors have resided here since time immemorial. Many indigenous peoples thrive in this place today alive and strong.

Readings, Podcasts, and Videos

There’s only one required book for this course: Susan Reynolds Whyte, ed., Second Chances: Surviving AIDS in Uganda (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014). It’s available for purchase at the University Bookstore and as an e-book through UW Libraries.

All the other readings/podcasts/videos for this course are freely available on the web (see embedded links below) or posted in our Canvas modules. 

Content Alerts/Trigger Warnings

This class contains material about sexual violence. If that’s a challenge, you can skip those readings – contact me to discuss. The class also contains a lot of explicit material about consensual sex between adults, which cannot be skipped or avoided – we’re studying a sexually transmitted virus. If you would like more specific information about when we’ll read about or talk about sexual violence or anything else, please reach out to me.

Class Meetings, Participation, and Politeness

This class will meet in-person twice per week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3-4:50pm (PST). Attendance is vital to your success in this course as we’ll be doing a lot of discussion-based work and some in-class presentations. Such work will enable us to build a strong learning community.

Participation is an important part of this course. You are expected to come to class on-time and prepared to participate in an engaged and respectful manner. This means being ready to discuss and debate assigned readings. Your participation grade will be based on your contributions during our class meetings. It will count for a maximum of 10 points out of the course total of 100 points.

All students are encouraged to take detailed notes during class sessions. Thus, if something unexpected comes up – such as an illness, the need to quarantine, or an emergency – and you miss class, you’ll be able to get notes from a peer. As a teacher, I’m committed to working with you to ensure your success at UW. Please let me know if a situation arises that requires you to miss more than one class in a row.

If anything comes up that you’d like to discuss related either to course content or your ability to participate in class or complete assigned work, I encourage you to see me after class or send me an email (lynnmt@uw.edu) to set up an alternative time to meet. I welcome one-on-one meetings and always enjoy discussing course materials with students. Successful teaching and learning requires open, clear, and consistent communication between all of us. Let’s make that happen.

When you contact me, please do so in a professional manner. For example, use a salutation, title, and last name (“Dear Professor Thomas” or “Dr. Thomas”), as you would in a professional setting. In turn, if you prefer to be addressed other than by your first name, please let me know.

During class and small-group discussions, please also treat fellow students with politeness and respect. Help make our classroom a safe space for everyone by directing any disagreements that might arise to people’s ideas not to people themselves. And avoid either dominating discussion or contributing too little.


Assignments will count for a maximum of 90 points of the course total of 100 points. Below and on our Canvas site, you’ll find more information about assignments including due dates, instructions, and maximum points.

All assignments will be submitted through Assignments on our Canvas site. They are “open book” (i.e. you can reference readings and your notes while doing them). While you are welcome and even encouraged to discuss assignments with peers and others, the written work you submit should be your own. UW policies regarding plagiarism and cheating will apply in this class. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications such as ChatGPT to complete assignments in this course counts as plagiarism as it is not your work. Please read carefully the attachment to this syllabus that explains History Department and UW policies regarding plagiarism and other important issues.

Except in cases where I’ve authorized exceptions, late assignments will receive a 10% deduction for each day after the due date. If challenges arise and you find it difficult to meet a due date, please let me know as soon as possible so we can determine a way forward. Again, I’m committed to working with you to ensure your success at UW.

“W” Credit

Students taking this course for “W” credit will be required to write an 8-page essay for their final project. A draft of at least the first four pages will be due by Thurs. 5/25 so you can receive feedback on those pages and revise accordingly.


Stay tuned.


Max Points

Due Date

Primary Source Description and Discussion


Mon. 4/3 by noon

Quiz #1 (2 IDs, one essay, and Africa map)


Mon. 4/17 by noon

Oral History Mini-Podcast


Mon. 5/1 by noon

Final Project Proposal


Mon. 5/15 by noon

Quiz #2 (3 IDs and one essay)


Tues. 5/30 by 9 am

Final Project (Podcast or W-Credit Essay)


Mon. 6/5 by noon

Class Participation


throughout quarter


100 points


For your final course grade, your point total will be converted to the 4.0 scale according to this chart:

100-95 = 4.0

88 = 3.3

81 = 2.6

74 = 1.9

67 = 1.2

94 = 3.9

87 = 3.2

80 = 2.5

73 = 1.8

66 = 1.1

93 = 3.8

86 = 3.1

79 = 2.4

72 = 1.7

65 = 1.0

92 = 3.7

85 = 3.0

78 = 2.3

71 = 1.6

64 = .9

91 = 3.6

84 = 2.9

77 = 2.2

70 = 1.5

63 = .8

90 = 3.5

83 = 2.8

76 = 2.1

69 = 1.4

62 = .7

89 = 3.4

82 = 2.7

75 = 2.0

68 = 1.3

<.7 = 0


For links to readings and reading questions to help you prepare for class discussion, please see Modules. For information about graded assignments, please see Assignments.

[1] UNAIDS, “Global HIV & AIDS statistics – Fact Sheet, 2021,” accessed March 18, 2023.


Catalog Description:
Examines global AIDS epidemic as key episode in twentieth-century. Begins with first AIDS patients in 1980s, moves back in time, considering histories of illness and inequality enabling epidemic to have devastating and uneven effects. Explores how politics of sexuality, class, citizenship and race shaped responses to epidemic by governments and communities, and, how HIV/AIDS gave rise to new forms of activism, research, and philanthropy.
GE Requirements Met:
Diversity (DIV)
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
April 10, 2024 - 2:03 pm