26 episodes

This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 - Video Yale University

    • Health & Fitness
    • 4.3 • 37 Ratings

This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

    • video
    01 - Introduction to the Course

    01 - Introduction to the Course

    Epidemics, or high-impact infectious diseases, have had an historical impact equal to that of wars, revolutions and economic crises. This course looks at the various ways in which these diseases have affected societies in Europe and North America from 1600 to the present. Contrary to optimistic mid-twentieth-century predictions, epidemic diseases still pose a major threat to human well-being. Diseases will be considered not only in their biological effects, but also as social, political and cultural phenomena. Attention will therefore be given to the different forms of human response to epidemics, from medical science to artistic representations.

    • 1 sec
    • video
    02 - Classical Views of Disease: Hippocrates, Galen, and Humoralism

    02 - Classical Views of Disease: Hippocrates, Galen, and Humoralism

    The form of medicine that arose in fifth-century Greece, associated with the name of Hippocrates and later popularized by Galen, marked a major innovation in the treatment of disease. Unlike supernatural theories of disease, Hippocrates' method involved seeking the causes of illness in natural factors. This method rested upon an analogy between the order of the universe and the composition of the body's "humors." Health, on this view, was a matter of achieving equilibrium between competing humoral forces. Although Hippocratic theory would later be challenged for a number of different reasons, notably including the experience of epidemic diseases, it persists today in various traditions of holistic medicine.

    • 2 sec
    • video
    03 - Plague (I): Pestilence as a Disease

    03 - Plague (I): Pestilence as a Disease

    The bubonic plague is the measure by which succeeding epidemics have long been measured. Its extreme virulence, horrible symptoms, and indiscriminate victim profile all contributed to making plague the archetypical worst-case scenario. For these same reasons, the plague is also an ideal test case for the thesis that epidemic diseases play a major role in shaping human history. Over the course of its three pandemics, the plague had major economic, religious, cultural and political implications for affected societies. In its wake, religious beliefs and medical practices were questioned, public authorities tested, and the social fabric strained.

    • 2 sec
    • video
    04 - Plague (II): Responses and Measures

    04 - Plague (II): Responses and Measures

    Community responses to the bubonic plague ranged from the flight of a privileged few to widespread panic and the persecution of foreigners and other stigmatized social groups. The suspicion of willful human agency in spreading the disease, identified with the work of poisoners, was a major source of anxiety. Mass religious revivals also accompanied the pandemic, with the emergence of new cults of saints and public forms of repentance. Official attempts to contain the second pandemic resulted in the first full-scale public health program, the plague regulations instituted by the Italian city-states, regulations that included military quarantines, compulsory burial, and imprisonment of the infected. It is unclear to what extent these measures, while representative of impressive technical and administrative advances, actually contributed to defeating the epidemic.

    • 3 sec
    • video
    05 - Plague (III): Illustrations and Conclusions

    05 - Plague (III): Illustrations and Conclusions

    One of the major cultural consequences of the second plague pandemic was its effect on attitudes towards death and the "art of dying." As a result both of its extreme virulence and the strictness of the measures imposed to combat it, plague significantly disrupted traditional customs of dealing with death. This disruption made itself felt not only in religious belief and burial practices but also in art, architecture and literature. European culture was profoundly shaped by the experience of the plague, as witnessed by the advent of symbols such as "vanitas" and the danse macabre in iconography, as well as the visual representations associated with the new cults of plague saints. The successful containment of the plague might be seen to have exercised a similarly powerful effect in shaping the philosophical project of the Enlightenment, in that the measures taken to ward off death gave material substance to theoretical claims of progress.

    • 2 sec
    • video
    06 - Smallpox (I): 'The Speckled Monster'

    06 - Smallpox (I): 'The Speckled Monster'

    In the eighteenth century, smallpox succeeded plague as the most feared disease. The two maladies, however, are very different. While plague is a bacterial disease, smallpox is viral. Plague is spread by rats and fleas, smallpox is transmitted by contact and airborne inhalation. Unlike plague, smallpox can exist as an endemic as well as an epidemic disease. The dread of smallpox was a result of its agonizing and unpleasant symptoms, which, in the case of survival, often left victims permanently disfigured. Prior to the discovery and successful implementation of inoculation and vaccination regimes, a host of ineffective and often dangerous treatments were attempted, including bleeding, purging, and cauterization of affected areas.

    • 2 sec

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5
37 Ratings

37 Ratings

Aussie Constant Learner ,

Epidemics in Western Society - Yale

This is fascinating. I'm waiting for Lecture 9 (about Cholera) to load into my iPhone. Now I know (sort of) what Smallpox looks like on the skin. Faintly on my upper left arm is the scar of a long-ago smallpox innoculation - I'm so glad to have had it and avoided the smallpox. I now know the horror that this innoculation protected me from. Bubonic plague - I'd forgotten that the USA gets about ten cases of that a year, and now I know what bubonic plague does to the body. Nineteenth Century medicine: how lucky we are to live in the 21st Century, who would ever want to go back a century or more...

ory3p94y ,

Love this!

I have listened to this course so many times! It’s like reading a favorite book. I’ve also added many of the books he recommends to my reading list.

jdssr1976 ,

Snowden is great

Dr. Snowden's delivery and cadence is great. The best and most erudite convrsation on this subject I have heard - and I have heard many.

Thank you for sharing this series.

Top Podcasts In Health & Fitness

Scicomm Media
Scicomm Media
Jay Shetty
Dr. Mark Hyman
Aubrey Gordon & Michael Hobbes
Rob Dial and Kast Media

You Might Also Like

BBC Radio 4
This American Life
BBC World Service

More by Yale University

Navigating Law School Admissions with Miriam & Kristi