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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

From cholera to AIDS: a global history of epidemics

HSTM20031 (10-credit); HSTM20081 (20-credit)
UCOL20031 (10-credit); UCOL20081 (20-credit)

Semester One, Mondays, 14.00-16.00

Contact: Prof Pratik Chakrabarti


This course introduces students to the global history of epidemics, starting from the outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s in Asia, Africa, Europe and America to the twenty-first century history of HIV/AIDS and Ebola. It has three main objectives; first, it highlights that the history of global epidemics enables us to understand the wider and deeper social, economic, political and cultural histories that led to disease and mortalities. Second, by drawing on a heterogeneous body of secondary and primary sources it identifies the local geographic, social and economic contexts of these epidemics. Finally, it will understand and analyse the experiences of communities and individuals living in the time of epidemics.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Analyse the history of epidemics within a global context of movements of people, ideas and commerce
  • Understand the complex historical relations between epidemic disease outbreaks and the particular cultural, social and political context
  • Understand the everyday experiences of those living in the time of epidemics

Lecture Content

Lectures form a connected series of explorations across the history of epidemics and follow the case study principle.

  • Globalization and Epidemics: Introduction
  • Asiatic Cholera in Europe: the Fear of Global Contagion
  • Quarantine and the origins of Global Health
  • Globalization and the spread of Germs and parasites in the Tropics
  • Yellow Fever in the Americas
  • The Making of Modern Malaria: Development and Disease
  • Living with Epidemics: Bombay in the time of plague/Typhoid Mary in North Brother Island/Haj pilgrims at Sinai
  • Smallpox: From Variolation to Eradication
  • AIDS, Ebola and the Return of the Plagues
  • Epidemics and Poverty: The Global burden of disease

Workshop Content

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set of weekly readings.


10 credit unit (HSTM20031) - 1500 word essay (50%); 2 hour examination (50%)
20 credit unit (HSTM20081) - 1500 word essay (25%); 2 hour examination (25%); 3000 word project report (50%)


Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff will answer specific queries by email and during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Employability Skills

General Statement - Verbal communication skills are developed in seminars and writing skills in assignments; preparing for seminars and essays uses qualitative research skills and answering questions; initiative is developed through the learning demands of the course; the course requires organisation skills to meet deadlines and to coordinate the different learning resources used; seminars require working as part of group, adapting to different demands and negotiating with other students.
Oral communication - Students encouraged to take part in discussion of the lecture material during seminar sessions
Written communication - Feedback provided for a 1500 work coursework essay
Innovation/Creativity - Students have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of how they address their essay topic
Research - Research required for essay
Analytical skills - Students critically examine case studies using primary and secondary literature and analyse the topics covered using both quantitative and qualitative materials



Recommended Reading

  • Hamlin, Christopher, Cholera: The Biography, Oxford 2009
  • Farmer, Paul, Infections and Inequalities. The Modern Plagues, London 1999
  • Chakrabarti, Pratik, Medicine and Empire: 1600-1960, Palgrave 2014

Teaching staff

Prof Pratik Chakrabarti

A recent copy of the course outline is available to view (pdf). Please note that course content may change in the next academic year.