History 135F
Department of History
University of California, Irvine


I constructed this website to accompany "Plagues & People ", a course on the History of Infectious and Epidemic Disease that I was privileged to teach at UCI from 2001 until my retirement in 2008.  I developed the website to serve as a reference and resource for my students.  Their insightful comments, questions, and suggestions helped shape its content and structure over the years. 

I hope the information and ideas you find on these pages will both satisfy and further stimulate the curiosity that led you here.

Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker
E-mail:   bjbecker@uci.edu

Chapel Hill, April 2010



Humans, like all living things, are both home and food to countless microbes and parasites.  We co-exist peacefully with some, fight others to the death, and routinely share them all -- good germs and bad -- with everyone we meet.  Occasionally, the consequences of our intimate relationship with agents of infectious disease are brutal.  Epidemics tax available political, economic, and spiritual resources.  And, they pose serious challenges to prevailing paradigms of medical theory and practice.  How has society, in particular the segment charged with healing the sick, responded to these challenges?

In Scotland, the fyrst Pestilens
Begouth, off sa gret wyolens,
That, it wes sayd, off lywand men
The thryd part it dystroyid then,
Efftyr that in till Scotland
A yhere, or mare, it was wedand
Before that tyme wes nevyr sene
A pestilens in oure land sa kene:
Bathe men, and barnys, and women,
It sparyd noucht for to kille them.
--Andrew of Wyntoun
   Orygynale Cronykil (1420)


Week 1.  Crowds
  1.   Costs of civilization
  2.   Epidemic disease before 1300 CE
Reading:  Week 1 Readings
Hays, ch. 1
Week 2.  Calamities
  3.   The Black Death (1347):  antecedents
  4.   The Black Death (1347):  aftermath
Reading:  Week 2 Readings
Hays, chs. 2-3; Gottfried, chs. 1-5
Week 3.  Context
  5.   Medical practice:  ancient legacy
  6.   Medical practice:  early modern
Reading:  Week 3 Readings
Gottfried, chs. 6-7 & epilogue
Week 4.  Colonies
  7.   The New World
  8.   The Old World
Reading:  Week 4 Readings
Hays, ch. 4; Zinsser
Week 5.  Carnalities
  9.   Syphilis
10.   Tuskegee
Reading:  Week 5 Readings
Hays, ch. 5; Quetel
Week 6.  Contagion?
11.   Medical practice:  17th century
12.   The Great Plague:  London, 1665
Reading:  Week 6 Readings
Hays, chs. 6-7; Defoe
Week 7.  Cure?
13.   Smallpox
14.   Yellow Fever
Reading:  Week 7 Readings
Hays, chs. 8-9; Rosenberg
Week 8.  Contact?
15.   Cholera
16.   Tuberculosis
Reading:  Week 8 Readings
Hays, chs. 10-22; Dubos
Week 9.  Cleanliness?
17.   Polio
18.   In-Flu-Enza
Reading:  Week 9 Readings
Hays, ch. 12; Rogers
Week 10.  Contemporary plagues
19.   Hemorrhagic fevers
20.   HIV/AIDS
Reading:  Week 10 Readings
Guillemin; Crichton

Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

Robert S. Gottfried, The Black Death:  Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe

J. N. Hays, The Burdens of Disease:  Epidemics and Human Response in Western History


René and Jean Dubos, The White Plague:  Tuberculosis, Man, and Society

Jeanne Guillemin, Anthrax:  The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak

Claude Quetel, The History of Syphilis

Naomi Rogers, Dirt and Disease: Polio before FDR

Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years