Although the development of the germ theory of disease in the latter half of the nineteenth century marks a major revolution in medical science, comparable to the discoveries of Galileo in astronomy or Darwin in biology, it cannot be reduced to the heroic efforts of a single researcher or group of researchers. Rather, a number of conceptual, technological and institutional preconditions made the germ theory possible. Among these, contagionism, microscopy and hospital medicine all played a major role. The germ theory of disease facilitated a wide range of scientific advances, including the isolation of pathogens, the creation of vaccines and the introduction of antiseptics in surgery.
Snowden, Naples in the Time of Cholera, chapter 5-7, conclusion
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.