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Epidemics and Pandemics in History (Level 6)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Professor Jessica Reinisch
  • Assessment: a 500-word primary source analysis (17%), 500-word modern scholarship summary (17%) and 3000-word essay (66%)

Module description

Covid-19 was a reminder of how dramatic and terrifying outbreaks of epidemic diseases can be. And yet, three years after the start of the Covid pandemic, many of us have gone back to life without giving much thought to disease or public health. This one-week intensive course invites you to think historically and critically about how a changing understanding of disease interacts with political models of governance and a range of economic and social priorities, along with global responses and failures to respond and memories of pandemics in the past.

Drawing on an array of primary sources to be explored during trips to archives and museums and in seminar discussion, we will help you gain an understanding of the arc of modern history viewed through the prism of public health, as well as research methods.

Indicative syllabus

  • Anti-contagionism and the sanitary idea
  • States and the policing of disease
  • Disease and empire
  • International control of disease
  • War and disease
  • Memories of historical pandemics
  • Disease case studies will include cholera, smallpox, typhus, syphilis, influenza, malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have an understanding of:

  • key pillars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century political, social and medical history
  • scholarly debates about the nature of epidemic diseases, the threats they pose to societies and possible ways to contain them.