HSTCMP 410 A: Medicine, History, and Society

Winter 2024
MW 8:30am - 10:20am / SMI 307
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Medicine, History and Society

From Cholera to COVID-19: A Global History of Epidemics


Instructor: Dr. Aditya Ramesh


Mondays and Wednesdays: 830 – 1020





How do we look back from our contemporary moment to the history of pandemics and epidemics? Drawing from the contemporary experiences of COVID-19, this course looks back into the history of global pandemics and epidemics and enables you to understand how and why different empires and nation-states have responded to infectious disease outbreaks in different ways.

This course covers the global history of epidemics, starting from the global pandemic of Cholera in the nineteenth century across Asia, Africa, Europe, and America to the contemporary experiences of COVID-19 and Ebola. It brings together insights from history, medicine, public health, epidemiology, and geography. The course will aid students in understanding the wider and deeper social, economic, political, and cultural histories that lead to disease and mortality. Likewise, it will situate cures to disease within their social and political histories.

Students will investigate why some countries and communities are relatively free from epidemics while others continue to suffer from them. You will identify the larger structural factors that define epidemics, including the economy, trade, labour movements, gender and class. Students will gain an appreciation for the nuanced ways in which disease is often created and amplified by global inequality and poverty. ‘Cholera to COVID-19’ explores the above through a historical framework and a global approach.


  • With the recent experiences of the Coronavirus outbreak in mind, students will learn how historically infectious diseases have spread across the world, how people, health systems and governments have reacted to these and what lessons can be learnt from global pandemics in the past.
  • The course unravels the global history of epidemics, starting from the global pandemic of Cholera in the nineteenth century across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America to the contemporary experiences of COVID-19 and Ebola. It brings together insights from history, medicine, public health, bacteriology, and quarantine. However, it further makes a clear case for why the historical method and analysing archives is important to understand how disease as a social phenomenon works.
  • You will investigate why, in the contemporary world, some countries and communities are relatively free from epidemics while others continue to suffer from them. You will identify the larger structural factors, such as the economy, trade, labour movements, gender and class that lead to epidemics and see that disease is often caused by global inequality.


  • We meet twice a week. Usually each meeting will include a lecture of 40-50 minutes and a discussion/activity of 40-50 minutes. There will be weeks where will read together (especially primary sources), prepare for and discuss assessments, watch a film, or do an activity together in the second half of the meeting.
  • There is no required textbook for this course. You do not have to buy any books. However, you may find the following books useful, and you can find them in the library.
  1. Paul Farmer, Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues (University of California Press [revised edition] 2001)
  2. Abena Osseo-Asare, Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa (University of Chicago Press 2014)
  3. Megan Vaughn, Curing Their Ills Colonial Power and African Illness (Polity Press 2013)
  4. Pratik Chakrabarti, Bacteriology in British India (Boydell and Brewer 2012)
  • Every week, please read at least one or two of the articles that are under required reading. The reading requirement is fairly light and we will do a lot of work on matching the reading with the assessments in the classroom. I will explain exactly what this means in the lecture. The additional reading is only for the exam questions that you might choose.
  • In addition please listen to the accompanying podcast or watch the suggested film. If there are any accessibility issues, please contact me, and we will work out an alternative.
  • In several weeks there are texts marked ‘primary sources’. Primary sources indicate texts produced at the contemporary moment of study. You can read these in advance, but we will work with several of these in the classroom, so don’t worry too much about them!



Attendance/participation (15% of total grade): Participation is expected, including attending lectures and participating in seminar discussion. However, you might have mitigating circumstances which you can always discuss with me, or through various student support initiatives at the University of Washington. Different support systems will relay the information to me with as little detail as possible if you so wish. The earlier you discuss any issue you might have with me, the sooner we can find a solution.

Short reflections x 2 (20% of total grade): These are due after week 4 and week 5. You are expected to explain and reflect on three concepts that you engaged with during the week. Subsequently, ask yourself why the week’s learnings are relevant to our contemporary moment. Think of the assessment as a total of four points you are attempting to make. Your reflection can take the form of 1. a write up (no more than 2 pages) 2. a photo-essay (no more than 4 photographs with explanations) 3. a podcast-style recording (no more than 6 minutes) 4. a mind-map for each concept, and one for contemporary relevance. An example will be up on Canvas, and we will talk through this assignment in the lectures and seminars.

Documentary film review (15% of total grade): through the course, we will watch a series of documentaries and feature films. We will watch some of it in the classroom, and you are expected to watch the rest of it at home. In the classroom we will discuss some core ideas from the films/documentaries. Due at the end of week 7 is a film review. You are expected to evaluate a film and its usefulness to the researcher. Make sure you include 1) context (when was the film made, who made it and why?) 2) main themes it addresses 3) kinds of resources the film uses and why it might serve as a good (or not) source for research. Links to the films will be in a separate folder marked ‘Film Links’ on Canvas.

Archive/database review (10% of total grade): On canvas you will find several online archives and repositories listed. We will discuss the assignment in detail in the classroom. You will be expected to conduct a review of any one of them. A review comprises of at least 1) what are the kinds of materials the repository holds? [do not list, rather frame as a paragraph] 2) what are the questions we can ask using the materials in the repository? 3) what other kinds of archival material would it require to make it more complete, and answer your questions in a fuller fashion?

Final take home exam (40% of total grade): you will have a list of 6 questions, of which you must answer any two.




WEEK 1 Lecture: Introduction, COVID-19 and the History of Pandemics


In in the first session we will explore if COVID-19, which has brought about such unprecedented changes in our lives, has any historical precedence. In the middle of such a raging pandemic, everything appears unprecedented and extraordinary. Every mode of prevention seems to require efforts at a scale never faced before by the human race. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about unique challenges for governments and public health authorities across the world. It has also provided government’s with exceptional legal and judicial powers to restrict and control people’s lives and livelihoods. While the virus may be new, the modes of its control and prevention are not. COVID-19 is a new virus, but not the modes of its control and prevention. Although the lockdown and the restrictions on public life globally appear unprecedented, they reproduce measures that imperial and colonial governments and public health officials had used to segregate, isolate, and confine people during epidemics.

Seminar: Does COVID-19 have a history?

Required reading

To explore the question whether COVID-19 has any historical precedence we will read a few short essays on the topic. Some suggesting that it is unprecedented and others that it has precedence. At the very least please read the first two.

Guillaume Lachenal and Gaëtan Thomas, COVID-19: When history has no lessons

Dora Vargha and Jeremy A. Green, How Epidemics End - Boston Review

Additional reading

Chakrabarti, Pratik, Covid-19 and the Spectres of Colonialism

Peckham, Robert. “COVID-19 and the Anti-Lessons of History.” The Lancet (British edition) 395, no. 10227 (March 14, 2020): 850–852

Further reading

Special Issue of Centaurus, Vol. 62, no. 2, ‘Histories of Epidemics in the Time of COVID-19’.

WEEK 2 Lecture: A Global History of a Pandemic: Asiatic Cholera


This week we will begin with the series of Cholera pandemics, which affected global populations across the world rapidly in the nineteenth century. We will explore the parallels it had with COVID-19, we will also investigate how social and economic inequalities accentuated the outbreaks. Finally, we will explore why cholera continues to affect several parts of the world even today.

Seminar: Cholera and Globalization

Seminar question: What causes Cholera? Germs, poverty, or global trade and interaction?

Required reading

Hamlin, Christopher. "The Cholera Stigma and the Challenge of Interdisciplinary Epistemology: From Bengal to Haiti." Science as Culture 21.4 (2012): 445-74.

Duffy, John ‘The History of Asiatic Cholera in the United States’, Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 47, 1971, pp. 115-1168.

Further reading

Smith, George Davey. "Commentary: Behind the Broad Street Pump: Aetiology, Epidemiology and Prevention of Cholera in Mid-19th Century Britain." International Journal of Epidemiology 31.5 (2002): 920-32.

Anne Hardy, ‘Cholera, Quarantine and the English Preventive System’, Medical History, 1993: pp. 250-269

Gilbert, E.W., ‘Pioneer Maps of Health and Disease in England’, The Geographical Journal, 124 (1958): 172-83

Charles Rosenberg, The cholera years; the United States in 1832, 1849 and 1866, Chicago, 1962, Introduction and part 1 ebook

Ackerknecht, E. "Anticontagionism between 1821 and 1867." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 22 (1948): 562-93

Gilbert, Pamela K. Cholera and Nation: Doctoring the Social Body in Victorian England. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press, 2008

Chakrabarti, Bacteriology in British India; Laboratory Medicine and the Tropics, (Rochester, NY, 2012) Chapter 5 [ebook]

Hamlin, Christopher, Cholera: The Biography, Oxford 2009, chapters 1 and 2

  1. Briggs, ‘Cholera and Society in the Nineteenth Century’, Past & Present, 19 (1961): 76-96

Primary source

Spooner, E. O. "The Contagion of Asiatic Cholera." Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal (1844-1852) 13.2 (1849): 34-37.

WEEK 3 Lecture: The History of Quarantine


Drawing from the history of cholera in the nineteenth century and from our contemporary experiences of quarantine and lockdown, we will learn the history of quarantine this week; how it was established, the various international medical and economic debates associated with it and the human suffering associated with these. We will also try to understand if quarantine was effective in preventing pandemics.

Seminar: Quarantine and Imperial Trade

Seminar question: What defined the origin of the modern quarantine system? The threat of disease or imperial trade?

Required reading

Huber, Valesca ‘The Unification of the Globe by Disease? The International Sanitary Conferences on Cholera, 1851–1894’, The Historical Journal (2006), 49: 453-476

Maglen, Krista “‘The first line of Defence’, British Quarantine and the Port Sanitary Authorities in the Nineteenth Century’, Social History of Medicine, 15, 2002, pp. 413-428

Pouget, Benoît. “Quarantine, Cholera, and International Health Spaces: Reflections on 19th‐century European Sanitary Regulations in the Time of SARS‐CoV‐2.” Centaurus 62, no. 2 (May 2020): 302–310


Anjuli Raza Kolb on pilgrims, empire and disease  Episode 94 – Epidemic Empire and Colonialism with Anjuli Raza Kolb | Infectious Historians

Further reading

Mishra, Saurabh. Pilgrimage, Politics, and Pestilence: The Haj from the Indian Subcontinent, 1860-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, chapter 3 

Maglen, Krista. "Politics of Quarantine in the 19th Century." Journal of the American Medical Association 290:21 (2003): 2873

Mark Harrison, ‘Disease, diplomacy and international commerce: the origins of international sanitary regulation in the nineteenth century’, Journal of Global History, Volume 1 / Issue 02 / July 2006, pp 197-217

Ogawa, Mariko. ‘Uneasy Bedfellows: Science and Politics in the Refutation of Koch’s Bacterial Theory of Cholera’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 74 (2000): 671–707.

Primary source

Long, John G. "TURKEY. The Quarantine Camp at El Tor." Public Health Reports (1896-1970) 17.20 (1902): 1156-159

WEEK 4 Lecture: The Asymptomatic Carrier: Viruses, Parasites and Humans


This week we will focus on the idea of the asymptomatic carrier; i.e., a person who is infected by the virus or bacteria but shows no signs of it. The idea was first proposed in the early twentieth century and soon became associated with racial and gender prejudice and various methods adopted by governments and other associations to isolate and restrict the movement of people. We will study this particularly through the case of Mary Mallon an Irish immigrant who worked as a cook in New York.

Seminar: Germs and People

Seminar questions: Were modern public health measures of isolation and lockdown, which were based on Germ theory, intrusive or beneficial? What was the relationship between social marginalisation and germ theory?

(Film: The Most Dangerous Woman in America – additional material here NOVA | The Most Dangerous Woman in America | PBS])

Required reading

Leavitt, Judith W. ‘“Typhoid Mary” Strikes Back: Bacteriological Theory and Practice in Early Twentieth-Century Public Health’, Isis, 83, (1992), 608-629. (JSTOR)

Meade, Teresa ‘"Civilizing Rio de Janeiro": The Public Health Campaign and the Riot of 1904’, Journal of Social History, 20, (1986): 301-322

Jones, Esyllt W. “Co-operation in All Human Endeavour”: Quarantine and Immigrant Disease Vectors in the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic in Winnipeg, Canadian Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Volume 22:1 (2005) pp. 57-82.

Further reading

Chakabarti, P, Medicine and Empire, pp. 164-181, ‘Bacteriology and the Civilizing Mission’

Ilana Löwy, ‘Yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro and the Pasteur Institute Mission (1901-1905): the transfer of science to the periphery’, Medical History, 1990, 34: 144–163 

Markel, Howard M., and Alexandra Minna Stern. "The Foreignness of Germs: The Persistent Association of Immigrants and Disease in American Society." Milbank Quarterly 80, no. 4 (2002): 757-88.

Kim Pelis, ‘Prophet for Profit in French North Africa: Charles Nicolle and Pasteur Institute of Tunis, 1903-1936’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine (BHM), 71, 4, 1997 ()

Moulin, Anne-Marie, ‘Patriarchal Science: The Network of the Overseas Pasteur Institutes’, in Patrick Petitjean, Catherine Jami and Moulin (eds.), Science and Empires; Historical Studies about Scientific Development and European Expansion (Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992), pp. 307-22.

Moulin, Anne-Marie,. ‘Tropical without Tropics: The turning point of Pastorian Medicine in North Africa’, in D. Arnold (ed). Warm Climates and Western Medicine, pp. 160-80.

Gradmann, Christoph, ‘Robert Koch and the Invention of the Carrier State: Tropical Medicine, Veterinary Infections and Epidemiology around 1900’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41 (2010): 232-40.

Deepak Kumar, ‘Colony” under a Microscope: The Medical Works of W.M. Haffkine’, Science, Technology & Science, 4 (1999), 239-71

Mary Sutphen, ‘Not What, but Where: Bubonic Plague and the Reception of Germ Theories in Hong Kong and Calcutta, 1894–1897’, Journal of History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 52, 1, 1997, 81-113

Susan D Jones and Philip M Teigen, ‘Anthrax in Transit: Practical Experience and Intellectual Exchange’, Isis, 99, 2008, pp. 445-485.

WEEK 5 Lecture: Epidemiology and Bacteriology: From the Laboratory to Slavery and Colonialism


This week’s lectures examine some of the techniques which developed in the late 19th century to identify and prevent diseases. Epidemiology and bacteriology were two paradigm changing moments in medical and scientific history, when novel techniques were developed that helped curb diseases. We will cover the history of famous scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. However, there is a more interesting and critical history here of how the lab is related to the wider social and political world. We will see how these techniques of bacteriology and epidemiology, which were so foundational to 19th and 20th century medicine, were shaped by diplomacy, empire, and finance.

Required reading

Pratik Chakrabarti, Bacteriology in British India (Boydell and Brewer 2013), pp. 1-24. Can be accessed UW Libraries Search - Pratik Chakrabarti bacteriology (exlibrisgroup.com)

Jacob Steere-Williams, The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England (University of Rochester Press 2020), Introduction.

Required listening

Aro Velmet on Pastuer’s Empire Episode 87 – Pasteur’s Empire with Aro Velmet | Infectious Historians

Class Activity: Using disease maps

1831: the map that launched the idea of global health | Internationaal Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

Coronavirus Outbreak Maps Rooted in History - Bloomberg

Additional reading:

Jacob Steere-Williams, The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England (University of Rochester Press 2020)

Hellen Tilley, Africa as a Living Laboratory: Empire, Development, and the Problem of Scientific Knowledge, 1870-1950 (University of Chicago Press 2011)

Jim Downs, Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine (Harvard University Press 2021)

Palmer, Steve, ‘Beginnings of Cuban Bacteriology: Juan Santos Fernández, Medical Research and Scientific Sovereignty, 1880-1920," Hispanic American Historical Review 91:3 2011: 445-68.

Lukas Englemann, ‘A box, a trough and marbles: How the Reed-Frost epidemic theory shaped epidemiological reasoning in the 20th century’ HPLS 43:105 (2021) https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-021-00445-z

WEEK 6 Lecture: In the Tracks of the Plague


We follow the third plague pandemic in its journey across port cities in the late 19th century. The plague was iconic for many reasons. Particularly

Required reading

Myron Echenberg (2002), ‘Pestis Redux: The Initial Years of the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic, 1894-1901’, Journal of World History, 13(2), 429–449. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20078978

Prashant Kidambi (2004), ‘”An infection of locality”: Plague, pythogenesis and the poor in Bombay, c. 1896–1905’ Urban History, 31(2), 249-267. doi:10.1017/S0963926804002135

Required listening

Emily Webster, Plague in Bombay and Urban Ecology Episode 67 – Plague in Bombay and Urban Ecology with Emily Webster | Infectious Historians

Primary source work

Visual plague archives

Exercise: carefully choose five images from the archive. Construct a visual narrative, an essay of sorts, that connects the images. What does each one of them say? How do they speak to one another?

Additional reading

Christos Lynteris, Visual Plague: The Emergence of Epidemic Photography (MIT Press 2022)

Paul Slack, Plague: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press 2021)

Green, M. et al., ‘Diagnosis of a ‘plague’ image: a digital cautionary tale’, The Medieval Globe 1.1 (2014) 309-26.

Green, M. et al., ‘Yersinia pestis and the three plague epidemics’, Lancet Infectious Diseases 14.10 (2014) 918.

Arlene Casey, Mike Bennett et. al. “Plague Dot Text: Text mining and annotation of outbreak reports of the Third Plague Pandemic (1894-1952),” Journal of data mining and digital humanities

William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (New York: Penguin Books, 1976)

Lee Mordechai, Merle Eisenberg, “Rejecting Catastrophe: The Case of the  Justinianic Plague,” Past & Present 244:1 (2019): 3–50

WEEK 7 Lecture: The Problem of Malaria


Some diseases are not pandemics, but epidemic and endemic. This means that they occur in certain placed regularly and affect large sections of populations. A good example of this is malaria, which is common in sub-Saharan Africa, and to a lesser extent South Asia. This week we will explore how malaria became ‘endemic’ to Africa, the human and non-human factors that led to its spread and why it has proved so difficult to eradicate malaria from Africa. Yet, while quintessentially bounded to the tropics, Malaria has even affected cities such as Boston and New York. The lectures will also seek to contextualize malaria in the paradigm of international health (think large organizations such as the League of Nations or the World Health Organization) which emerged during the interwar (1914-1945) era.

Seminar: Malaria and Development

Seminar questions: Why is malaria endemic to Africa? Is malaria natural to Africa or is it created by human action? How is ‘development’ linked to the problem of malaria in Africa?

Required reading

Eleanor Shaw, “Making Malaria History,” can be accessed at Nursing Clio Making Malaria History

Randall Packard, The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 1-18.

Additional reading

Packard, Randall M. "“Roll Back Malaria, Roll in Development”? Reassessing the Economic Burden of Malaria." Population and Development Review 35.1 (2009): 53-87

Packard, Randall M. ‘Maize, Cattle and Mosquitoes: the Political Economy of Malaria epidemics in colonial Swaziland’, The Journal of African History, 25 (1984): 189-212

Packard, Randall, ‘“Malaria Blocks Development” Revisited: The Role of Disease in the History of Agricultural Development in the Eastern and Northern Transvaal Lowveld, 1890-1960’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 27 (2001): 591-612.

Gallup, J L, and J D Sachs. "The Economic Burden of Malaria." The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 64.1-2 Suppl (2001): 85-96

Lyons, Maryinez. ‘Sleeping Sickness in the History of Northwest Congo (Zaire), Canadian Journal of African Studies, 19 (1985): 627-633

Jeeves Alan H. ‘Migrant Workers and Epidemic Malaria on the South African Sugar Estates, 1906-1948 in Alan H. Jeeves and Jonathan Crush., (1997) White farms, black labor : the state of agrarian change in Southern Africa, 1910-50 pp. 114-136

Worboys, Michael, ‘The Emergence of Tropical Medicine: A Study in the Establishment of a Scientific Speciality’, in G. Lemaine et. al. (eds.), Perspectives on the Emergence of Scientific Disciplines, (The Hague and Paris, Mouton) 1976.

Randall Packard, ‘The making of a vector-borne disease, Ch 5 (pp. 111-149) in the book The Making of a Tropical Disease: A Short History of Malaria (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)

Lyons, Maryinez. ‘Sleeping Sickness in the History of Northwest Congo (Zaire), Canadian Journal of African Studies, 19 (1985): 627-633  Chakrabarti, Pratik, Medicine and Empire, chapter 8 ‘Imperialism and Tropical Medicine’

Douglas M. Haynes, Imperial Medicine: Patrick Manson and the Conquest of Tropical Disease, 1844 1923, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2001

Charles Cameron, ‘An Address on Micro-Organisms and Disease’, British Medical Journal, 1084 (8 October 1881): 583–86

Münch, R. ‘Robert Koch’, Microbes and Infection, 5 (2003): 69-74.

Primary source

Ronald Ross, ‘The Progress of Tropical Medicine.’ Journal of the Royal African Society 4, no. 15 (1905): 271-89

Patrick Manson, ‘The Life-History of the Malaria Germ outside the Human Body’, BMJ, 1838 (21 March 1896): 712–17.

WEEK 8 Lecture: Smallpox and Strategies of Eradication


This week we will study smallpox, the only disease that was successfully ‘technically’ eradicated and declared as such by International and national health organizations. We will explore the history of smallpox, the devastating effect it had on populations throughout history. We will then study the Smallpox Eradication Programme (SEP) of the WHO in detail to understand efforts to eradicate smallpox and what significance that holds for the possible eradication of other diseases.

Seminar: Smallpox: The Story of Eradication

Seminar questions: Should vaccination be a matter of legislation? (Should it be legally enforced) How did the complex structure of the WHO facilitate the smallpox eradication campaign? Why was the surveillance-containment strategy key to the Eradication of Smallpox in Western Africa? Can the Smallpox model be adopted for the Eradication of Other Disease? If so, which for disease/s and how?

Required reading:

Colgrove, James. "Between Persuasion and Compulsion: Smallpox Control in Brooklyn and New York, 1894-1902." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78, no. 2 (2004): 349-78, pp. 371-8

Bhattacharya, S. "The World Health Organization and Global Smallpox Eradication." Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 62, no. 10 (2008): 909

Foege, William, J. Millar, and D. Henderson. "Smallpox Eradication in West and Central Africa," World Health Organization. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 76, no. 3 (1998):  pp. 223-231

Additional reading:

Bhattacharya, S. "The World Health Organization and Global Smallpox Eradication." Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 62, no. 10 (2008): 909

S Bhattacharya and N Brimnes, eds, ‘Simultaneously global and local: Reassessing smallpox vaccination and its spread, 1789-1900’, collection of essays in Spring issue (no. 1) of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine 83 (2009)

Bhattacharya, Sanjoy. "International Health and the Limits of Its Global Influence: Bhutan and the Worldwide Smallpox Eradication Programme." Medical History, 57, no. 4 (2013): 461-86.

J Colgrove, ‘Between persuasion and compulson’, pp 17-44 (Ch 1) in his State of Immunity: The Politics of Vaccination in Twentieth-Century America (University of California Press and Milbank Memorial Fund, 2006)

N Williams, ‘The implementation of compulsory health legislation: Infant smallpox vaccination in England and Wales, 1840-1890’, Journal of Historical Geography 20 (1994): 396-412

S Bhattacharya, M Harrison, and M Worboys, Fractured States: Smallpox, Public Health and Vaccination Policy in British India, 1800-1947 (Orient Longman, 2005)

N Durbach, Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907 (Duke University Press, 2005)

D Brunton, ‘Smallpox inoculation and demographic trends in eighteenth-century Scotland’, Medical History 36 (1992): 403-429

S Gronim, ‘Imagining inoculation: Smallpox, the body and social relations of healing in the eighteenth century’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 80 (2006): 247-268

Primary source: Smallpox WHO history: http://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/39485

WEEK 9 Lecture: AIDS, Ebola and the Return of the Plagues


Lecture: In the post Second World War era, international organizations and the medical fraternity at large believed that widespread epidemics were now eradicated. Modern medicine had triumphed. Vaccines, sanitary methods, and pills had eliminated large scale epidemic disease which had rendered life fragile in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. New epidemic outbreaks such as Ebola and AIDS fundamentally challenged this consensus. They also revealed new inequalities.

Seminar: What is Plaguing the Modern World?

Seminar question: With AIDS and Ebola, are we revisiting nineteenth-century paradigms of disease, or charting new territories?

Required reading

P Wald, ‘“The Columbus of AIDS”: The invention of “Patient Zero”’, Ch. 5 (pp 213-263) in Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke University Press, 2008)

C E Rosenberg, ‘What is an epidemic? AIDS in historical perspective’, Daedalus 118 (1989): 1-17

Required watching

Gregg Mitman, “In the Shadow of Ebola”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5z3Rb8YBC8  

Additional reading

Mitman, Gregg. "Ebola in a Stew of Fear." The New England Journal of Medicine 371, no. 19 (2014): 1763-765

Bayer, Ronald and Oppenheimer, Gerald M. AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Berridge, V., & Strong, P. (1991). ‘AIDS and the relevance of history. Social History of Medicine, Social History of Medicine, 4(1), 129-38.

Berridge, Virginia. AIDS in the UK: The Making of Policy, 1981-1994. Oxford University Press, 1996.

WEEK 10 Jumping Species, Jumping Borders


No lecture (we will hold discussions on your final take home paper)

Drawing from the prior weeks, we will now study the outbreak of COVID-19. We will start by exploring the phenomenon of jumping species, from Mad cow disease to SARS and explore how these are products of modern globalization. We will then focus on two key themes of the outbreak; the modes of identification, tracing of asymptomatic carriers and the various modes of prevention that are being suggested. We will finally explore how the history of epidemics help us to understand the disease.

Seminar questions: Is COVID-19 something that many consider ‘unprecedented’ or is it an outbreak that has both historical context and causality? Is the history of epidemics, contagion, and globalization useful in helping us understand the Covid-19 pandemic?

Is the phenomenon of Jumping species, as evident in Mad cow disease or SARS, a product of globalization?

Required reading

Blakeslee, Sandra. “Mad Cows, Sane Cats: Making Sense of the ‘Species Barrier.’” The New York Times. June 3, 2003

Kate Brown, ‘The Pandemic Is Not a Natural Disaster’, New York Times, 13 April 2020

Additional reading

Mark Harrison, "Disease and Globalization." Contagion, 247-75, Yale University Press, 2012.

Graham, Barney S. “Rapid COVID-19 Vaccine Development.” Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 368, no. 6494 (May 29, 2020): 945–

Lv, Huibin, Nicholas C Wu, and Chris K. P Mok. “COVID‐19 Vaccines: Knowing the Unknown.” European journal of immunology 50, no. 7 (July 2020): 939–943

Coronavirus Research Database. Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest LLC, 2020.

Special Issue of Centaurus, Vol. 62, no. 2, ‘Histories of Epidemics in the Time of COVID-19’.

Lango, Miriam N. “How Did We Get Here? Short History of COVID‐19 and Other Coronavirus‐related Epidemics.” Head & neck 42, no. 7 (July 2020): 1535–1538

Coronavirus Research Database. Ann Arbor, Michigan: ProQuest LLC, 2020.

Wu, Yi-Chi, Ching-Sung Chen, and Yu-Jiun Chan. “The Outbreak of COVID-19: An Overview.” Journal of the Chinese Medical Association 83, no. 3 (March 2020): 217–220

Ahmed, Faheem, Na’eem Ahmed, Christopher Pissarides, and Joseph Stiglitz. “Why Inequality Could Spread COVID-19.” The Lancet. Public health 5, no. 5 (May 2020): e240–e240

Tai, Don Bambino Geno, Aditya Shah, Chyke A Doubeni, Irene G Sia, and Mark L Wieland. “The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the United States.” Clinical infectious diseases (June 20, 2020)

Catalog Description:
Investigates the origins of aspects of contemporary life form vitamins, to giving birth in a hospital, bringing a historical perspective to topics including the politics of pharmaceuticals, the emergence of genetic determinism, and bioethics.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
December 7, 2023 - 1:45 pm