Disease and History (HIST*3310) | College of Arts

Disease and History (HIST*3310)

Code and section: HIST*3310*01

Term: Winter 2021

Instructor: Tara Abraham


Method of Delivery:

Synchronous 80-minute lectures, twice a week.

Course Synopsis:

This course will focus on the complex roles that disease has played in human history from the Middle Ages to COVID-19. We will concentrate on how understandings of health and disease have changed over time: not only how they are shaped by social, cultural, and political contexts, but also how these spheres are in turn shaped by disease. Through close analysis of both primary and secondary readings, we will pay attention to the interplay between social and cultural responses to disease and the professional and institutional contexts of medicine and medical knowledge. Case studies of epidemic diseases will help us observe how they have divided human populations and cultures, but also how they have tied human populations together. Topics will include social diseases, disease and colonialism, disease and commerce, public health, the rise of scientific medicine, disease and war, global health, poverty, modern pandemics, and disease and women.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Through lectures, readings, and discussions, to understand the complex relations between epidemic disease, medical practitioners, and society throughout history.
  2. Through independent research and writing, to develop skills in critical and creative thinking and written communication of ideas about disease and history.
  3. Through class discussions and presentations, to gain skills in oral communication and presentation of scholarly work.
  4. To appreciate the temporal dimensions of epidemic diseases according to place and context.
  5. To understand the central tools and techniques in the discipline of history broadly.



Method of Evaluation and Weights:

Class Participation - 15%
Critical Evaluation Assignment (in pairs) - 25%
Primary Source Book Response [Defoe or Maxwell] - 25%
Take-Home Final Exam - 35%

Texts Required:

  • Mitchell L. Hammond, Epidemics and the Modern World (Toronto, 2020).
  • Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (Penguin, 2011).
  • William Maxwell, They Came Like Swallows (Vintage, 1997).
  • A set of online readings through Ares, the University of Guelph’s online Course Reserve system.

*Please note: This is a preliminary website description only. The department reserves the right to change without notice any information in this description. The final, binding course outline will be distributed in the first class of the semester.

The University of Guelph resides on the land of the Between the Lakes Treaty No. 3, the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. This land is part of the Dish with One Spoon, a covenant between Indigenous nations to live peaceably on the territories of the Great Lakes region. We recognize that today this gathering place is home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and acknowledging them reminds us of our collective responsibility to the land where we learn, live and work.