DSCY10120 Contagion & Control

Academic Year 2023/2024

The explosive outbreak of COVID-19 has transformed the world we inhabit. Within months of its first report in late December 2019, SARS-CoV-2 infected hundreds of millions of bodies, triggered quarantine of billions of people, and wiped out trillions of dollars of market value. Like perhaps no other disease, COVID-19 has highlighted both the interconnectivity of global environments and societies and the fragility of the health systems we have put in place to control emerging disease. But were we always so vulnerable to disease? And how did previous generations deal with emerging and existing health challenges? Contagion & Control draws on new research from across the medical humanities and sciences to introduce students to over 200 years of disease control efforts, the effects of globalisation in spreading disease landscapes and health systems across the world, and the conflicting pressures shaping current global health.

Students will learn how crises like COVID-19 are rooted in the dramatic changes that global disease environments and the way humans manage their health underwent over the past 200 years. During this time, population growth, mass migration, climate change, and ever faster travel connected and transformed once distinct disease environments. Biologically, once local diseases like cholera and HIV spread around the globe. Culturally, the rise of medical science in the nineteenth century replaced older humoral understandings of illness. Politically, these changes were closely associated with the rise of powerful industrialised nation states and colonial empires, which depended on new forms of medicine to secure their hold on power. Biomedical interventions like vaccines against smallpox, typhoid, rinderpest, and other diseases, improved sanitation, and drug treatments like antibiotics played an important role in improving human and animal health. Yet the health systems these medical interventions were embedded in, such as the socialist systems of the communist sphere or the semi-private systems in the Americas, as well as the increasing international coordination of health politics, enabled unprecedented levels of centralised control over individuals' lives. Resulting tensions between the desire to implement uniform top-down health policies and calls for more nuanced, culturally-attuned policies, which co-rely on local actors like traditional healers, persist to this day – as do tensions between strengthening basic health care and prioritizing more targeted technological interventions like vaccines. Understanding these tensions as part of the broader mutual evolution of societies, disease, environments, and health systems improves our knowledge of the past and provides valuable insights for the global health challenges of the present.

To facilitate interdisciplinary attendance and scheduling, this module will be delivered via virtual lectures and seminars.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students:
1) should acquire critical skills through the assessment of a range of historical and multi-disciplinary approaches (history, the social sciences, and biomedical sciences) to studying global health.
2) develop a critical understanding of the major historical changes in the nature and context of disease and health systems since c.1800.
3) enhance their analytical and presentation skills in presenting their work to peers.
4) enhance their ability to evaluate a range of primary and secondary sources

Indicative Module Content:

Topics and Themes covered include:
(1) Of Humans and Microbes: Changing Concepts of Disease and Environment since 1800; (2) Pandemic Normal: Modernity, Globalisation, and the Spread of Disease; (3) Foundations and Evolution of Medical Microbiology: ‘One Health’ and the Management of the Microbial Commons; (4) The White Death: The Biology and History of Tuberculosis in the Modern Era; (5) Statistics, Sewers, and Sterilisation: The Rise of Public Health (1830-1930); (6) A Therapeutic Revolution? antimicrobials, vaccines, and international disease control; (7) Healthy Environments – Urban Systems and Health; (8) Health for All? Welfare and Health Care Systems since 1800; (9) Governance by Numbers: DALYs, QALYs, and the rise of global health; (10) The End of Capitalism or the End of Disease? Future Imaginaries of Health. An in person poster presentation will take place in week 13.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module combines weekly lectures, small-group autonomous learning, and seminars. Weekly lectures provide overviews of individual topics, with a focus upon key trends, debates and events. Weekly seminar discussions focus on active / task-based learning using both secondary and primary sources related to the topic covered in the lecture. Autonomous learning is nurtured through required preparatory reading each week, and a formative and summative assignment. Key research and presentation skills are explicitly incorporated into weekly discussion forums and are assessed and advanced from the formative to the summative assignments. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Journal: Over the course of the module, students must submit a total of two graded discussion posts in response to questions from the weekly reading. Unspecified n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Participation (20%) Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Assignment: Midterm 300-350-word poster plan/proposal Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Assignment: Poster: See "Handbook" and 'Assessment' Document. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Peer review activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback on the continuous assessment is given on during seminars and on appointment in one-to-one meetings. Feedback on the end-term Poster Presentation Assignment is given in writing on the returned copy.

Name Role
Dr Edward Collins Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Catherine Cox Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Susi Geiger Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Stephen Gordon Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Thilo Kroll Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Chiara Tedaldi Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Carly Collier Tutor
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 33 Tues 18:00 - 19:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 32 Tues 18:00 - 20:50