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PUBH2209 Plagues, Pox and Pandemics: the History of Death and Disease

6 points
(see Timetable)
Semester 1UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 2 option in the Humanities in Health and Medicine major sequence
  • Level 2 elective
This unit provides students with a valuable historical perspective on changing medical techniques and perceptions in which to locate current and emerging health issues. The topics include historical methodologies and sources; Egyptian, Greek and Roman medicine; the Black Death in fourteenth-century England; the spread of infectious disease in the New World; medical practitioners in medieval and early modern Europe; witchcraft, mental health and religious healing; transitions in medical thought from medieval times to Enlightenment; public health in the Victorian age; warfare and disease; health care, ideology and totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; and psychiatry and mental health care. The unit charts changing relationships between human health, medical technologies, cultural milieux, and environmental resources in past societies. Students have the opportunity to discover and examine original documents for themselves and analyse historical perceptions and realities of health and disease, through case studies using archaeological, paleo-pathological, visual and written evidence of health perceptions in the past. The unit provides students with a valuable historical perspective on changing medical techniques and perceptions in which to locate current and emerging health issues.
Students are able to (1) analyse the major contours of Western medical theories and practices; (2) assess the impact of disease on human behaviour in past societies; (3) assess the influence of medical practice and concepts of health on human behaviour in past societies; (4) critically analyse a wide range of historic source materials; (5) critically analyse a wide range of modern commentaries and readings on medical and disease history; (6) construct a logical argument with relevant documentation; (7) express ideas in clear, cogent and correct English in both written and oral forms; and (8) work collaboratively to arrive at questions and conclusions about the period.
Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) workshop preparation and participation; (2) critique of historical texts; and (3) examination. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Supplementary assessment is not available in this unit except in the case of a bachelor's pass degree student who has obtained a mark of 45 to 49 overall and is currently enrolled in this unit, and it is the only remaining unit that the student must pass in order to complete their course.
Unit Coordinator(s)
Professor Angus Cook
Unit rules
Contact hours
lectures: 2 hours per week; tutorials: 1 hour per week
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.