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Health, Society, and History




Admission Requirements



Over the span of the block we will examine how scholars and practitioners study disease and public health. 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. 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 airborne and 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, both past and present. To that end, we will consider these subjects from a variety of academic perspectives including geography, anthropology, history, and public health itself. Students will become practiced in evaluating, comparing, and synthesizing the varied (and often conflicting) views of other scholars that comes in the forms of written texts, maps, charts, and tables. While to understand health and disease 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. Student will hone their skills through reading exercises, classroom discussion, oral presentations, and formal writing.

Course Objectives

By successfully completing this course, you will:

  • understand key general themes relating to public health with an emphasis on disease etiology.

  • develop a critical perspective on the meanings of the terms “health” and “disease.”

  • devise and execute a well-argued essay, while polishing your academic prose.

  • improve your ability to read scholarly material carefully, critically, and with greater dispatch.

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 introductory 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 each class, along with suggestions and strategies for digesting the assigned material. Students will write two short formal essays and one essay-based take-home exam. For more on these, and on the oral presentation requirements, see “Assessments,” below.


Assessment: In-class participation and preparation
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Presentation of a supplementary reading
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Once during the block

Assessment: Two critical thinking essays
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Weeks 3 and 6

Assessment: Take-home exam
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8


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.

All other readings will be distributed in class or electronically.

Contact Information

Dr. Sarah E. Hinman:

Weekly Overview

Week 1 and 2 – Defining and the meaning of health, public health, and public health offices
Week 3 and 4 – Waterborne diseases
Week 5 – Infant, child, and maternal health
Week 6 – Vectorborne diseases
Week 7 – Airborne diseases