HISTORY 376 - Epidemics: Plagues and Cultures from the Black Death to the Present
Winter 2021, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  Online (see other Sections below)
Subject: History (HISTORY)
Department: LSA History
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Requirements & Distribution:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:


We are in the midst of an alarming pandemic. It is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Covid-19 is a novel viral disease, spreads widely in the community, causes frightening symptoms and has mounted a disturbing death toll. Meanwhile, government officials downplay its significance while blaming foreign countries for its perpetration. We adhere resignedly to restrictive population measures, including our own remote learning experience, that deprive us of social interaction, cultural fulfillment, and intellectual vigor. Our behavior is divided—some complacent citizens mistrust scientists and perceive their recommendations as a threat to their personal liberties, whereas others anguish at the thought that they or their loved ones are vulnerable. We are unsettled by the uncertainty of the pandemic’s trajectory and are frustrated by the lack an effective vaccine or therapy. We remain confident that biomedicine will at some point deliver potent remedies and preventives, but after what cost to society, our economy and livelihood? Covid-19 is unprecedented in our lifetime. In this course, we look to the past to find deep historical analogues for today’s pandemic. Students will explore leprosy and Black Death in medieval times, syphilis from 1492 to today, 1918 Influenza, AIDS in contemporary society, and today’s emerging epidemics, including multidrug resistant microbes (e.g., “superbugs”), Zika, and Ebola in the DRC. Students will learn to recognize recurring themes that are applicable today—the trope of fear, blaming of the outsider, the growing confidence as well as skepticism that scientific medical experts can handle epidemic threats, and the tensions that develop between public health recommendations and personal liberties. Studying these past epidemics at key historic moments will provide students with insight into the social, economic and cultural impact of each disease. It will also give them perspective, consolation, and possibly direction as they live through Covid-19 today.

Course Requirements:

Readings will stress primary source materials. There will be a midterm and final exam, along with one independent research paper.

Intended Audience:

The intended audience will be undergraduates from freshman to seniors.


HISTORY 376 - Epidemics: Plagues and Cultures from the Black Death to the Present
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
Note: Remote with synchronous instruction.
003 (DIS)
Th 3:00PM - 4:00PM
004 (DIS)
Th 4:00PM - 5:00PM

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