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Health, Society & History


Admission requirements



Over the span of the block we will examine how scholars and practitioners study disease, public health, and the environment together. Health maintains a prominent position in our everyday lives as well as in history, often in subtle ways. Our examination of the topic will range temporally from mid-nineteenth century to the twenty-first century with an emphasis on the urban environment. This course will not take a chronological approach to the subject, but instead will tend toward topical issues such as the development of public health offices, infant mortality, and the individual categories of disease, such as those that are respiratory or waterborne.
This course offers an introduction to key themes related to health, public health, and disease. Its core objective is to train students to think critically about the role of health and disease in society connection to the natural and/or built environment. To that end, we will consider these subjects from a variety of academic perspectives including geography, anthropology, history, and public health itself. While to understand health and disease deeply one needs some knowledge of biology and other sciences for our purposes there is no requirement of a strong background in this. Biological concepts will be introduced via lecture or discussion as needed. Students will hone their skills through reading, exercises, classroom discussion, oral presentations, and formal writing.

Course Objectives


  • Students will be able to write focused arguments relating to course content.

  • Students will be able to give an effective oral presentation that educates the class on a supplementary topic.


  • Students will be able to discuss and describe general themes and trends over time in the field of public health along with changes in ideas of disease etiology.

  • Students will be able to explain and analyze the different perspectives and meanings of the terms “health” and “disease.”

  • Students will be able to identify different influences of the environment on health and vice versa.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course will proceed primarily as a seminar, meeting for two 2-hour sessions per week. Each class will center on discussion of an assigned reading, with remarks or a short lecture by the professor and brief student presentations of supplementary texts. The instructor may also provide reading questions in advance of class, along with suggestions and strategies for digesting the assigned material. Instead of web-postings students will be asked to respond in writing to questions posed at the start of some class sessions.

Assessment Method

Engagement (Participation), 15%
Short essays x2, 25% total
Group Project, 20%
Final Essay(s), 40% total

Reading list

  • Johnson, Steven. 2006. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic– and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Riverhead Books.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Sarah Hinman,


The first reading will be distributed via email in the week before the class begins.