Asiatic cholera was the most dreaded disease of the nineteenth century. While its demographic impact could not compare to that of the bubonic plague, it nonetheless held a tremendous purchase on the European social imagination. One reason for the intense fear provoked by the disease was its symptoms: not only did cholera exact a degrading and painful toll on the human body, it also struck suddenly, and was capable of reducing the seemingly healthy in a period of hours. A second major reason for the disease's significance was its overwhelming predilection for the poor: transmitted through the oral ingestion of fecal matter, cholera was intimately associated with poor diets and unsanitary living conditions. This correspondence qualifies it as an archetypical disease of poverty, and implicated cholera in the larger nineteenth-century political anxiety over the "social question."
This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.
Course Structure: This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.