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Fighting Epidemics Together: Health Policies Between the Local and the Global


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


This course familiarizes students with key ideas, institutions and interventions in the history of international and global health. It invites participants to critically analyse the relationship between health, medicine and international politics and to consider the impact of imperialism, colonialism and decolonization on health governance. While attention will be paid both to infectious and non-communicable diseases, the course places particular emphasis on epidemics. The need to treat and prevent (the spread of) infections has fundamentally changed the human experience: it has wrought profound demographic, political, social and cultural changes all over the world. Diseases such as smallpox, malaria, tuberculosis, polio and HIV know no borders, and hence health issues and interventions need to transcend the boundaries of the modern nation state. This provided the background to the emergence of medical humanitarianism, the foundation of the World Health Organization in 1948 and the activities of various non-governmental organizations. However, health problems cannot be treated by merely top-down interventions, nor can they be addressed without taking into account social inequalities and injustice. In that context the course points to the detrimental effect of neoliberal globalization and considers the role of right-based approaches and social movements in creating a more equitable health system at the community and at the global level.

Cultural, social, political and medical perspectives on disease will be discussed on the basis of a wide range of sources – archival documents, government records, photographs, memoirs, films, objects, letters and posters. Topics to be discussed include disease and empire, the birth of colonial and tropical medicine, indigenous knowledge systems and medicine, mental health and transcultural psychiatry, the development of vaccines and antibiotics, disaster management after wars, earthquakes and floods. The course will also

There will be no entry test to this course.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical pr)blem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;

  • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:

  • in the specialisation Political Culture and National Identities: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Has acquired basic knowledge and understanding of the fundamental issues and debates in the history of global health

  • 14) Has acquired the knowledge and skills to assess the main developments in the history of epidemics

  • 15) Has acquired in depth knowledge of one particular case study;

  • 16) Has acquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Seminars: 26 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature and preparation of small assignments including pesentation: 84 hours

  • Prepare and write research papers: 170 hour

Assessment method

Written Paper
Oral presentation
Small Assignments


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 9, 11-16

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7-9

  • Class Participation
    measured learning objectives: 4, 7-9


  • Written paper: 60%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Small Assignments 10%

  • Participation: 10%
    The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficent.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Exam review

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Publication course outline

  • Communication of deadlines

  • Sharing some of the required literature and powerpoints

  • Discussion

Reading list

The required reading will be made accessible to students via blackboard. Interested students are recommended (but not obliged) to consult Anne-Emanuelle Birn et alii, Textbook of International Health: Global Health in a Dynamic World (OUP, 2009) which is available as e-book via the university library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. M.K. Baar