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STS 243
Epidemic! A Critical History of Medicine, Science and Power Fall 2020
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity

Class Details

The world after COVID won’t look the same. It has disrupted our lives and laid bare the racial, gendered and economic inequalities in our health system, and the deficiencies of political and public health institutions, as it continues to claim more victims. For centuries, communicable diseases ravaged different communities and led to massive mortality and morbidity. The death toll disrupted social organizations, destroyed families and communities, and challenged medical institutions and State authority. Medical thought and practice struggled to make sense of contagion, disease factors and treatment; State authorities were faced with demands to intervene, protect and support the sick, all while its own institutions were ravaged by diseases; race, gender, sexuality and other human differences were deployed to justify why some died more, and to show that, for the State, some lives mattered more than others. In this course, we trace how epidemics influenced the history of medicine, science and technology, and how they impacted social structures around the world. We ask about the meaning of contagion, how medical and scientific thought understood diseases. We investigate the history of quarantines and isolations. We ask about race, gender and sexuality and their place in the making of epidemics, and we investigate the history of colonialism and its connection to changing disease landscape. Tracing epidemics from the nineteenth century plagues to COVID, the course investigates the place of epidemics and contagion in medical and scientific thought, how they relate to race, gender, sexuality and colonialism, and how they changed and shaped the world we live in.
The Class: Format: seminar; The class will be hybrid with once a month F2F meeting outside. All other meetings will be conducted remotely
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 2792
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: 2 response papers (3-5pages each) + final project (could be a 10-15p paper or creative project of any kind)
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Concentrators, followed by seniors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: The course addresses how epidemics, and the way medical and political institutions dealt with them, were shaped by issues of race, gender, sexuality and human difference, and how epidemics in turn impacted perception of race, gender and sexuality. Students will engage with a number of theories and methods related to difference, such as critical race theory, postcolonial theory and queer theory.

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