Health, Disease, and Environment in World History
Today, the wellbeing of human populations and the nature of the environment we inhabit are inseparable. Transportation networks facilitate the spread of pathogens, while global urbanization is devouring land and resources at an unprecedented rate. Pesticides and antibiotics encourage the generation of resistant bacteria and viruses. Climate change affects animal migration patterns and global agriculture alike. Malthusians warn of overpopulation, while optimists insist that technological progress will allow us to escape crisis. Pollutants, food additives and synthetic substances interact with living bodies in unpredictable ways. Consumption of meat, water, and fossil fuels continues to rise. Yet medical advances and public health initiatives mean that a substantial amount of the world’s population lives longer than ever before. Our planet supports more people than at any point in history. Yet still a sense of unease and incipient crisis persists.
We propose a two-year lecture and seminar program devoted to these vast and fundamental issues. The literature devoted to health, disease, and environment in world history is enormous and interdisciplinary. Our focus is upon four themes: demographic transitions, epidemiology in history, the dialectic between environment and disease, and the relationship of race, poverty, and inequality to disease. The themes will connect the local with the global–we will begin with overarching, global issues and move to more local questions thereafter.
Program for 2011-2012
The first year of the “Health, Disease, and Environment in World History” program will explore two issues: demographic transitions and epidemiology in world history. Each will comprise 6 sessions.
2. Epidemiology in World History. Epidemics and pandemics have played an enduring role in shaping historical events. The Justinian Plagues and the Black Death shattered ancient and medieval societies across the Old World, Europeans conquered the New World with the aid of smallpox, and AIDS has shattered the economies of numerous African states. Here, we will welcome speakers and fellows whose work explores particular epidemics and the social, cultural, economic and political change that followed in their wake. We might appeal to scholars working on “classic” issues in the history of epidemics, like the bubonic plague of the fourteenth century or cholera in the nineteenth, or we might attract those working on less well-known diseases or ones whose vectors did not traverse the West. We will also appeal to scholars working on the impact of animal diseases, like rinderpest and avian influenza. Finally, scholars working on the social production of medical knowledge will also be invited.
Program for 2012-2013
The second year of the “Health, Disease, and Environment in World History” program will examine two further themes: the dialectic between environment and disease, and race, poverty, inequality and disease.
4. Race, Poverty, Inequality and Disease. This final theme concentrates on political questions arising from the first three themes. Throughout human history, the rich have lived longer than the poor. They have inhabited different environments, as Engels famously noted in his writing on the British working class. This relationship has, of course, frequently had a racial dimension. Within the British Empire, for example, white colonizers regularly took control of high ground on the argument that it was more salubrious. In South Africa, white populations argued that different racial groups belonged in different geographical zones. Access to clean water, shelter and energy is radically different in the “developed” and the “developing” world. As the program draws to a close, we will invite scholars to speculate on the causes and consequences of these most visceral forms of inequality.
John Brooke, Department of History, Co-Chair
Chris Otter, Department of History, Co-Chair
Timothy Buckley, School of Public Health, Co-Chair
James Bartholomew, Department of History
Alan Beyerchen, Department of History
Nick Breyfogle, Department of History
Phil Brown, Department of History
John Burnham, Department of History
Bill Childs, Department of History
Leo Coleman, Dept. of Comparative Studies
Mai-Po Kwan, Department of Geography
Clark Larsen, Department of Anthropology
Jennifer Siegel, Department of History
Mytheli Sreenevas, Department of History
Richard Steckel, Department of Economics
Applications for fellowships for the 2012-2013 program are due March 15, 2012.