*History of Science 139V. Ecological Visions of Health and Disease

This course examines how ecology has been factored in to the understanding of health and disease during the past two hundred years, focusing on epidemics and disease emergence. During the twentieth century, leading figures in infectious diseases research sought to understand diseases ecologically, in effect, to make microbiology more broadly biological. Their ecological vision was related to earlier work in medical geography and studies of the direct impact of the environment, including climate, on disease expression. Disease ecology explains the interactions of parasites and their hosts, revealing the co-evolution of disease virulence and host resistance. It is largely a science of settler colonial societies, such as Australia, South Africa, and the United States. Drawing on animal ecology, it represents one of the two great integrative, even holistic, enterprises in modern biomedicine, the other being social medicine, which explores the socioeconomic patterns of disease. Accordingly, disease ecology presents a challenge to those who view biomedicine as increasingly “reductionist” or molecular in orientation. We will study some of the key figures of disease ecology, including Smith, Burnet, Dubos, and Fenner, exploring their ecological thought and critiques of civilization and development.

This will be an opportunity to reflect on the ways that the challenge of diseases like influenza, malaria, psittacosis, and myxomatosis has changed thinking in medicine. We will also examine how, since the early 1980s, disease ecologists have transformed our understanding of the emergence of diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, and Zika—and developed concepts of disease surveillance, biosecurity, and preparedness.

Additionally, we will look at what ecological visions shape global health, OneHealth, EcoHealth, and the new planetary health.


Warwick Anderson







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History of Science
  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2018-2019 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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