Community responses to the bubonic plague ranged from the flight of a privileged few to widespread panic and the persecution of foreigners and other stigmatized social groups. The suspicion of willful human agency in spreading the disease, identified with the work of poisoners, was a major source of anxiety. Mass religious revivals also accompanied the pandemic, with the emergence of new cults of saints and public forms of repentance. Official attempts to contain the second pandemic resulted in the first full-scale public health program, the plague regulations instituted by the Italian city-states, regulations that included military quarantines, compulsory burial, and imprisonment of the infected. It is unclear to what extent these measures, while representative of impressive technical and administrative advances, actually contributed to defeating the epidemic.
Reading / Film assignment:
Chase, The Barbary Plague
Film: The Seventh Seal
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.
This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010.