*HIST-LIT 90EP. The History of Pests

Pests have had impacts large and small on human life, serving as sources of lethal pandemics and minor annoyance alike. But what constitutes a pest has varied greatly over time and space. This course examines these themes with a focus on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, an era of optimism for pest eradication and visions of environmental control more broadly. It subsequently turns to the consequences of these efforts--both life-saving and deleterious--to the present. Throughout, the course contextualizes pests as products of sedentary agriculture, empire, and capitalism. Topics include mosquitoes and revolution in Haiti, street dogs and health in Istanbul, and rats and race in Baltimore. The course also touches on the broader cultural resonance of pests, by attending to how the language of pests has come to apply to invasive species, germs, and certain humans. The sources for thinking through these questions are broad, ranging from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth to Disney public health reels featuring The Seven Dwarfs happily spraying insecticides to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In sum, the course brings together environmental history, the history of medicine, and the history of science to consider how humans have created pests and pests have created humans.   

Notes: Seminars meet for two hours of synchronous class discussion each week. To register, complete History & Literature’s application to enroll by August 21. Instructors will notify students of enrollment decisions on August 24. This seminar is open to all undergraduates, but priority will be given to sophomores interested in concentrating in History & Literature.


Samuel Dolbee







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Subject Area: 

History and Literature

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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2020-2021 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
  • An asterisk (*) before a course number indicates that a student must obtain the instructor's permission in order to enroll in the course.

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