WRPR 189B01, 02  Health and the City

This course examines the modern history of cities as sites of public health concern and intervention. Since the early nineteenth century, European and American cities have faced health challenges exacerbated by the epidemiological, ecological, and social consequences of rapid urbanization, industrialization, and social dislocation. City dwellers have been threatened by factors ranging from epidemic disease and poor sanitation to overcrowded slum housing and the prevalence of pests, problems that were complicated by social, political, and economic factors such as pervasive poverty, racial segregation, distrust of immigrant populations, and limited government resources. Students will be asked to think historically about a set of core questions and themes: how certain urban problems have attracted attention from health officials while others remain obscured or are seen as matters of private responsibility, how particular urban spaces come to be conceptualized as sites of medical concern while others remain invisible or neglected, how local social, political, and economic forces influence and shape public health interventions, and what it means to practice “public health” as a distinct domain of action, expertise, and authority. Guided by these questions, students will develop skills in close reading, clear writing, and crafting effective arguments. Readings will emphasize historical primary sources such as medical texts, public health reports and pamphlets, newspaper accounts, educational films, and legal documents.

Health and the City was recently featured on the Haverford “Cool Classes” blog. Check it out here!

WRPR 188A01, 02 Epidemics and Society

Epidemic diseases are often imagined as microscopic germs unleashing devastation as they traverse the globe. But epidemics are not merely biological phenomena; they are shaped by society, culture, and popular representation. As historian Charles Rosenberg has argued, epidemics often take on “the quality of pageant—mobilizing communities to act out propitiatory rituals that incorporate and reaffirm fundamental social values and modes of understanding.” How do individuals and the media construct narratives to make sense of epidemic outbreaks? How do cultural assumptions, political ideologies, and popular representations influence medical, social, and governmental responses to epidemics? This writing course examines cultural responses to epidemics, considering how ideas about race, class, gender, sexuality, and national identity inflect responses to disease outbreaks; the social and cultural implications of outbreak narratives; and the ways in which responses to epidemic disease both reflect and constitute the boundaries of political communities. Guided by these questions, students will develop their skills in close reading, clear writing, and crafting effective arguments. Readings will emphasize historical primary sources, and may include newspaper and other popular accounts, medical articles, and documentary films.