Infectious diseases from a historical perspective

Despite advances in science and technology, infectious diseases are still a pressing issue for human society, as we are experiencing with COVID-19. Since the Black Death or bubonic plague, infectious diseases have significantly affected the course of human history according to Professor Barry C. Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. In his course, An Introduction to Infectious Diseases, he describes how the spread of infectious diseases depends on our interactions with one another locally and globally, the state of the environments we live in and our interactions with the natural world, especially animals. The spread of infectious diseases in the past was due to the lack of knowledge about germ theory and the lack of tools to diagnose illnesses.

In these uncertain times, this course will give you a greater understanding of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other germs as well as disease transmission, treatments and prevention. Professor Fox provides a comprehensive historical and current perspective on infectious diseases. He discusses the continuous challenges we will meet together at home and abroad as new diseases arise and evolve and as old infectious diseases resurface.

This course is available in DVD and streaming formats through our RBDigital and Kanopy services. You can learn more about these and other digital services through our Online Library Help portal and Video Tutorial collection.

For more information about infectious diseases and public health from a historical perspective, check out these resources:

Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America From the Bubonic Plague by David K. Randall
Randall's book traces the massive effort to contain an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900 San Francisco, detailing how the process was complicated by virulent racism, pseudoscience, and political cover-ups.
Plagues and the Paradox of Progress Plagues and the Paradox of Progress:  Why the World Is Getting Healthier in Worrisome Ways by Thomas J. Bollyky
In this book, Bollyky explores the paradox in the fight against infectious disease: the world is getting healthier in ways that should make us worry. Bollyky interweaves a grand historical narrative about the rise and fall of plagues in human societies with contemporary case studies of the consequences. 
The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum  

Honigsbaum chronicles the last century of scientific struggle against deadly contagious disease--from the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic to the recent SARS, Ebola and Zika epidemics--examining related epidemiological mysteries and the role of disease in exacerbating world conflicts.

For information about the history and controversies surrounding vaccines, check out the SCCLD Health and Fitness topic guide on vaccines.