Accessibility statement


Tutor: Danielle Park (tutor for 2017-18 and 2018-19) / Sethina Watson

Module type: Comparative Histories

Module code: HIS00006H

From acne to Aids, from piles to plague, diseases are both the most mundane of human experiences and the most catastrophic. The language of illness has also been a pervasive and powerful rhetoric, with all kinds of behaviour being described either as “sick” or as producing ill health in certain social groups. Examining both physical and mental afflictions, this course uses a comparative approach to investigate disease in history. Over the nine weeks it will explore three contrasting perspectives on this topic: [i] the epidemiological, [ii] the social and [iii] the cultural. The first will think about the movement of diseases among or through populations, looking especially at the high mortality of plague, smallpox and HIV-AIDS. We will then investigate social, governmental, institutional and medical responses to ill health including quarantine and public health policy. Many diseases have had powerful psycho-cultural dimensions, whether because of their frightening symptoms (cholera, ebola), their apocalyptic threat (plague, bird flu), or the cultural significance which has been attributed to them (syphilis, leprosy, hysteria). In considering these, we will think about different constructions of “diseases” and the varying forms of expert and lay knowledge that have defined conditions and their responses.

Seminar topics are likely to include the following:-

    • Can diseases have a history?
    • Comparative Plague 1: Epidemic Disaster
    • Comparative Plague 2: Experience and Response
    • The State, Disease Control and Conflict
    • Pollution: of Sex, Lepers and Outcasts
    • From My/Your Disease to a Disease
    • Social Construction/Location of Disease
    • Institutions and Germs
    • Visualization: Images of Disease and Illness, and Revision


For more detailed information, please visit the module catalogue.