Studying online

There are now 2 possible online modes for units:

Units with modes Online timetabled and Online flexible are available for any student to self-enrol and study online.

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Unit Overview


This unit provides students with a valuable historical perspective on pandemics, plagues, emerging medical techniques and changing 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; public health and infectious disease challenges in the Victorian age; warfare and disease; health care, ideology and totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; psychiatry and mental health care; modern pandemics such as the 1918-19 flu and COVID-19. The unit charts changing relationships between human health,pandemics and plagues, medical explanations and treatments, and cultural milieux. 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 the emergence of pandemics and plagues as well as changing medical approaches in which to locate current and emerging health issues.

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

Students are able to (1) analyse the major historical contours of pandemics, plagues and Western medical theories and practices; (2) assess the impact of pandemics, plagues and major diseases on human behaviour in past societies; (3) assess the influence of medical practice and concepts of health on patterns of infection and 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 pandemics, plagues 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 previous eras and future disease threats.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) workshop preparation and participation; (2) critique of historical texts on pandemics; and (3) examination. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Professor Angus Cook
Unit rules
Successful completion of
24 points
Approved quota: 150—places will be allocated on a first come first served basis. Students enrolled in the Population Health major should contact the Unit Coordinator for advice on enrolment.
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.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.