History 104 (201) Plagues and Poisons: History of Disease




Course Level





Disease has comprised a fundamental element of human experience in all times and places. But human understanding of the nature and causes of death and bodily suffering has varied widely, and so have the measures of prevention, control, and cure taken in different historical societies. By studying disease in history we gain a window on the beliefs and institutions of different societies, as well as an understanding of the nature of diseases and of human suffering and resilience. This course examines the experience of disease in a variety of historical contexts from the European Middle Ages to the present, and in several different regions of the world. We will emphasize the historical diversity of understandings of the causes and meanings of illness and disease. We will examine both how those conceptual differences have often grown from social, cultural, political and economic conditions and how different ways of understanding illness and death have also exerted profound influence on the culture and organization of society.