BSc Biomedical Sciences

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
From Cholera to Aids: A Global History of Epidemics

Unit code HSTM20031
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit aims to develop the understanding of the historical link between epidemic diseases, cultures of health and healing, and the emergence of modern medicine and science. Looking at case studies of important disease outbreaks in history, the course aims to apply interdisciplinary research methods whilst using a range of primary sources as well as secondary literature. The course aims to locate epidemic outbreaks within their wider historical contexts so as to integrate histories of medicine, microbiology, disease ecologies and society.


This course introduces students to the global history of epidemics, starting from the outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s in Asia, Africa, Europe and America to the twenty-first century history of HIV/AIDS and Ebola. It has three main objectives; first, it highlights that the history of global epidemics enables us to understand the wider and deeper social, economic, political and cultural histories that led to disease and mortalities. Second, by drawing on a heterogeneous body of secondary and primary sources it identifies the local geographic, social and economic contexts of these epidemics. Finally, it will understand and analyse the experiences of communities and individuals living in the time of epidemics.

This unit can also be taken as a 20 credit version (HSTM20081).

Learning outcomes

  • Analyse the history of epidemics within a global context of movements of people, ideas and commerce
  • Understand the complex historical relations between epidemic disease outbreaks and the particular cultural, social and political context
  • Understand the everyday experiences of those living in the time of epidemics



Lecture Content

Lectures form a connected series of explorations across the history of epidemics and follow the case study principle.

  • Globalization and Epidemics: Introduction
  • Asiatic Cholera in Europe: the Fear of Global Contagion
  • Quarantine and the origins of Global Health
  • Globalization and the spread of Germs and parasites in the Tropics
  • Yellow Fever in the Americas
  • The Making of Modern Malaria: Development and Disease
  • Living with Epidemics: Bombay in the time of plague/Typhoid Mary in North Brother Island/Haj pilgrims at Sinai
  • Smallpox: From Variolation to Eradication
  • AIDS, Ebola and the Return of the Plagues
  • Epidemics and Poverty: The Global burden of disease

Workshop Content

Workshops consolidate lecture material through a set of weekly readings.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students critically examine case studies using primary and secondary literature and analyse the topics covered using both quantitative and qualitative materials
Students have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of how they address their essay topic
Oral communication
Students encouraged to take part in discussion of the lecture material during seminar sessions
Research required for essay
Written communication
Feedback provided for a 1500 work coursework essay
Verbal communication skills are developed in seminars and writing skills in assignments; preparing for seminars and essays uses qualitative research skills and answering questions; initiative is developed through the learning demands of the course; the course requires organisation skills to meet deadlines and to coordinate the different learning resources used; seminars require working as part of group, adapting to different demands and negotiating with other students.

Assessment methods

1500 word essay (50%); 2 hour examination (50%)

Feedback methods

Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff will answer specific queries by email and during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Recommended reading

  • Hamlin, Christopher, Cholera: The Biography, Oxford 2009 (compulsory)
  • Farmer, Paul, Infections and Inequalities. The Modern Plagues, London 1999 (background)
  • Chakrabarti, Pratik, Medicine and Empire: 1600-1960, Palgrave, 2014


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Pratik Chakrabarti Unit coordinator

Return to course details