BA History and Sociology

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Disease and Ecology in Global History

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32201
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Following microbes and pathogens, forests and cities, and people and animals, this course asks how our modern understanding of disease as embedded in the environment emerged. The course is organised in three thematic and chronological strands: 1) beginning in the 16th century, the course shows the different ways in which disease was perceived as rooted in environmental conditions 2) From the early decades of the 20th century, the course follows the medical and social construction of particular diseases and their wider ramifications in terms of class, race, gender and caste 3) we explore dominant strands of thinking such as modernization, globalization, and international cooperation in relation to disease and health, and the counter-movements that emerged when thinking about disease, including environmental activism. Finally, the module provides historical tools to make sense of the present Covid-19 pandemic. It shows how diseases, which have affected humankind historically for millennia, rarely end in a singular moment.


Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is restricted to History programmes and History joint honours programmes (please check your programme structure for further details)


  • To develop foundational knowledge on the importance of climate change and ecological conditions to the proliferation of disease.
  • To understand relevant concepts at the intersection of environmental and medical humanities such as ‘non-human’, ‘pathogen’, ‘parasite’ and their changing meanings.
  • To engage concepts in social and historical analysis such as race, gender, colonialism and class to how disease was framed historically.
  • To challenge understandings of medicine as a fixed scientific idea, and instead explore its relationship to ecology, context and social life.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of some of the main intersections between disease and ecology post 1500.
  • Identify and work on specific historical case studies, especially in the developing world, demonstrating the context based nature of disease and ecology.
  • Understand the constituting features of a variety of diseases, and how they are embedded in the social (race, class, and gender).

Intellectual skills

  • Work independently on analysing specific contexts in relation to diseases and environment, including with maps and images.
  • Analysing online primary sources, situating them in a given context and synthesizing primary sources with secondary readings.
  • Ability to interrelate and bring together apparently disconnected phenomenon using a variety of primary and secondary literature.

Practical skills

  •  Confidently navigate relevant medical and environmental humanities resources (eg pubmed, Adam Mathews map collection, etc.).
  • Organise and categorise different source materials and think from multiple points of view.
  • Communicate effectively in large groups and small groups.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Gain an understanding of the ‘developing’ or majority world in the context of public health and environment
  • Thinking about the roots of a problem from multiple viewpoints and angles
  • Completion of an independent project on an identified problematic
  • Teamwork and representing teamwork to a wider group
  • Identifying and using online/physical research databases

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Oral, written communication and analytical skills
Oral communication
Constructing narratives and communicating on highly relevant subjects such as climatic change, public health and science.
Working with different forms of data (images, statistics, maps, and text) to form a coherent narrative

Assessment methods

Source Analysis:  35%

Essay:  65%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative
Oral feedback Formative 
Peer review  Formative
Written feedback Summative 


Recommended reading

Tilley, H, Africa as living laboratory: Empire, development, and the problem of scientific knowledge, 1870–1950. Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2011

Anderson, W. (2004). Natural histories of infectious disease: Ecological vision in twentieth-century biomedical science. Osiris, 2(19), 39–61.

Anderson, W. (2016). Postcolonial ecologies of parasite and host: Making parasitism cosmopolitan. Journal of the History of Biology, 49, 241–259.

Anderson, W. (2017). Nowhere to run, rabbit: The cold-war calculus of disease ecology. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 2002

Neil Ahuja, Bio-insecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species Durham NC, Duke University Press, 2016

Pratik Chakrabarti, Bacteriology in British India: Laboratory Medicine in the Tropics, Rochester, NY, University of Rochester Press 2012

Rohan Deb Roy, Malarial Subjects: Empire, Medicine and Nonhumans in British India, 1820–1909 Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 2019

Adia Benton, Race and the Immuno-logics of Emergency Response during the West African Ebola Crisis, Somatosphere, September 19, 2014

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Aditya Ramesh Unit coordinator

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