Pandemics in Context


Course Title

Pandemics in Context

Course Description

COVID-19 has wrought dramatic changes in our everyday lives and is straining our health care system. These changes feel unprecedented—but they are not. From the plague to influenza to HIV/AIDS, epidemics and pandemics have changed the way populations and nations understand and organize themselves. This is because epidemics are not only biological events, but also cultural phenomena that produce wide-ranging effects on human experience. The ways people have made sense of past outbreaks of contagious diseases―through journalism, fiction, art, scientific literature, and more―significantly shape the way we understand and respond to contemporary outbreaks. This course will explore aspects of several epidemics in American history as a way of understanding the precedents that are shaping our current national responses to COVID-19. Drawing on historical scholarship, literary texts, and cultural artifacts, we will explore how people have imagined, narrated, organized, and communicated information about contagious disease from smallpox, typhoid, and flu to HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.

Course Level

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Course Topics

Disciplinary Perspectives

Geographic Location

Cleveland, OH

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Institutional Location


Pandemics in Context