It is not known for certain when smallpox first appeared in Europe; however, the disease reached its highpoint in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when it persisted as an endemic disease while periodically erupting as an epidemic. European literature testifies to the pervasiveness of smallpox, a disease that most would have had acquired in childhood. In the New World, the disease was experienced very differently. With no acquired immunities on the part of native populations, European explorers and colonists were responsible for devastating "virgin soil epidemics," one consequence of which was to pave the way for the importation of African slaves. The first practical public health measure to effectively combat smallpox, inoculation and later vaccination, achieved notable success but was not free of flaws and controversy.
Fenn, Pox Americana
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.