Pandemics: Lessons from History

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 18 December 2020
10 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module is an urgent response to a contemporary crisis: the COVID pandemic that has affected all of us. It focuses upon six great pandemics – bubonic plague (the so-called 'Black Death'), small pox, cholera, the Great Flu, HIV/Aids – exploring their histories, how they were responded to, and how they shaped the societies that fell victim to them. The module closes with a consideration of the COVID pandemic through which we are living and places it within the framework developed by the module. Throughout, students are required to explore how pandemics are an unforgiving searchlight into the nature of the societies that they strike, exposing weaknesses and strengths, the nature of divisions, as well as manifold political, economic, social and cultural phenomena. Some of these have been disturbingly constant: for example, the blaming and persecution of out-groups (Jews during the Black Death, gays and African minorities during the AIDS epidemic); or the use of the crises to engineer restructurings and policies desired by the powerful. Other phenomena disclose a more hopeful pattern: forms of cooperation, solidarity and action which take different forms in different societies and periods, but which all point towards a desire to ensure collective survival and understanding.

Module aims

To provide students with perspectives and frameworks derived from the history of pandemics that will help them to understand the phenomena, responses and experiences that have struck them and their societies; secondly, to reveal the centrality of the discipline of history to understanding and, indeed, to fashioning appropriate and effective responses to modern-day problems and crises. Finally, to reveal how pandemics are one of the great and recurring lightning storms of history – illuminating profound connections between peoples and societies, while exposing hierarchies, inequalities, solidarities, and the very nature of existing orders and power structures

Module learning outcomes

1. The fashioning of a historically-informed analytical framework to understand the impact and implications of pandemics in the past and present.
2. The critical appreciation of key scholarship relating to pandemics.
3. A broad understanding of continuities and contrasts in response to pandemics in different periods and societies.

Module information

For introductory reading, see:

Nancy Brisow, American Pandemic. The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic.
Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel.
William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples.
Laura Spinney, Pale Rider. The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World.
World Health Organisation AIDS: Images of the Epidemic.
Hans Zinnser, Rats, Lice and History.

Learning and teaching methods

These will take the form of lectures and seminars, with some occasional showing of films.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Critical review (1500 words)    40% 
Coursework   Essay (2500 words)    60% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Jeremy Krikler, email:
Belinda Waterman, Department of History, 01206 872313



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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