The Stories We Tell about Epidemics and Why They Matter
This module is about the stories we tell about epidemics and why they matter. It demonstrates that science and the public have particular ways of telling stories about health. Through scientific narratives, movies, novels, and the popular media, these stories become dominant ways of thinking about things at certain moments.
- Reading: Priscilla Wald, Introduction to Contagious and Imagined Immunities, Duke University Press
- Video: Andromeda Strain Movie Trailer
- Video: Outbreak Movie Trailer
- Video: Hot Zone Miniseries Trailer
- Interview: Priscilla Ward, Author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative
- Lecture: The COVID-19 Outbreak
- Questions to Consider:
- In your own words: What is narrative competency?
- In your own words: What is historical competency?
- What role do stories play in epidemics?
- How do visual aids like maps assist in telling those stories?
- List some ways stories can affect public and global health outcomes.
- How might we make stories about epidemics more ethical and equitable?
- Reading: Howard Brody et al, “Map-making and Myth-making in Broad Street: the London Cholera Epidemic, 1854,” The Lancet
- Reading: Sari Altschuler, “The Gothic Origins of Global Health,” American Literature
- Video: “John Snow and the 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak”
- Lecture: Public Health’s Founding Myth
- Lecture: Beyond the Outbreak: Other Ways We Narrate Epidemics
- Questions to Consider
- Why do epidemiology and public health continue to tell a story that isn’t accurate?
- What can we learn from the history of John Snow about the relationship between narrative and fields like public health and epidemiology?
- Why did it take so long to identify the source of the 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti and what lessons does the Haitian cholera outbreak teach us about the different kinds of stories people tell about epidemics?
- How about nineteenth-century gothic global health narratives about cholera?
- How about the HIV/AIDS pandemic?
- What roles do race and racism play in our stories about public health? Xenophobia?
- How might we use the COVID-19 pandemic to help us think about other stories we might tell?
- Finally, how do you plan to use the narrative and historical lessons from this module to help you think about health crises like epidemics?
Find three sources that discuss the story of how covid-19 pandemic happened: a short news story, an in-depth news account, and a scientific article. Discuss what the narratives have in common and how they differ. Your thesis should say something about what argument these authors are advancing, how they tell their stories, and what telling these particular stories about covid-19 does for that argument.
Some factors you may wish to look at include when they were published, what kinds of pieces the publication venues usually publish, what these authors have written in the past, etc. If you see the story changing, say how.
– 5 pages double-spaced, 1 inch margins
– Font: Times New Roman, 12 point.
– Find the three sources and use the material from this course as secondary material.
- Altschuler, Sari. “The Gothic Origins of Global Health.” American Literature 89, no. 3 (Sept 2017): 557-590. Abstract.
- Brody, Howard, et al. “Map-making and myth-making in Broad Street: the London cholera epidemic, 1854.” The Lancet 356.9223 (2000): 64-68.
- “Covid-19” Forum in American Literature, edited by Sari Altschuler and Priscilla Wald (December 2020). Available in pre-prints until December 2020 at https://bit.ly/3nLjdp5
- Davis, Cynthia J. Bodily and Narrative Forms: The Influence of Medicine on American Literature, 1845-1915. Stanford UP, 2000.
- Gilbert, Pamela K. Cholera and Nation. SUNY Press, 2008.
- “Humanities Coronavirus Syllabus,” edited by Sari Altschuler and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon.
- Jones, David S. “History in Crisis–Lessons for Covid-19.” New England Journal of Medicine. (March 12, 2020) Full text.
- Rationalizing Epidemics: Meanings and Uses of American Indian Mortality since 1600. Harvard, 2004.
- Khan, Ali. The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers. PublicAffairs, 2016.
- Lynteris, Christos. Human Extinction and the Pandemic Imaginary. Routledge, 2020.
- Outka, Elizabeth. Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature. Columbia University Press, 2019.
- Ostherr, Kirsten. Cinematic Prophylaxis: Globalization and Contagion in the Discourse of World Health. Duke University Press, 2005.
- Pernick, Martin S. “Contagion and culture.” American Literary History 14.4 (2002): 858-865.
- Rosenberg, Charles E. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
- Rütten, Thomas, and King, Martina. Contagionism and Contagious Diseases: Medicine and Literature 1880-1933. Spectrum Literaturwissenschaft / Spectrum Literature 38. Walter De Gruyter, 2014.
- Silva, Cristobal. Miraculous Plagues: An Epidemiology of Early New England Narrative. New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Thornber, Karen Laura. Global Healing. Brill Rodopi, 2020. Full text. Brill has generously made this book freely available.
- Tomes, Nancy. The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1998.
- Treichler, Paula A. How to have theory in an epidemic: Cultural chronicles of AIDS. Duke University Press, 1999.
- Wald, Priscilla. Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Full text.
Associate Professor of English; Associate Director, Northeastern Humanities Center; Founding Director, Health, Humanities, and Society minor
Sari Altschuler’s research focuses primarily on American literature and culture before 1865, literature and medicine, disability studies, and the health humanities, broadly understood. She is the author of The Medical Imagination: Literature an…