Coronavirus Class

Electron microscope image of COVID-19 virus, coloured in green, blue, and purple

On Thursday 19 March 2020 the students of the MA course Introduction to Medical and Health Humanities at VU will focus on the history of epidemics and the lessons for the current pandemic of COVID-19. Feel free to follow along with this week’s assigned readings (listed below), and by sharing your thoughts on Twitter – #coronavirusclass

Week 7 – 2020: Coronavirus: COVID-19

At the very start of this course at the beginning of February, we discussed the likelihood of the new coronavirus becoming a topic we could not ignore in our class. The first case in the Netherlands was reported on 27 February, and the first death on 6 March. On Sunday 15 March, with 1135 cases confirmed, and 20 deaths, the government closed down schools, bars and restaurants, and other businesses, effective from 18:00 that evening until 6 April. In this session we will consider what we might learn from the history of epidemics, and the challenges in applying such lessons. We’ll conclude with a discussion of how the situation is unfolding now, and we’ll share a summary of our class online on Friday 20 March, via the Pulse Network website and Twitter #coronavirusclass

Required Reading:

David S. Jones, “History in a Crisis — Lessons for Covid-19,” New England Journal of Medicine, 16 March 2020,

Rosemary Taylor, “The Politics of Securing Borders and the Identities of Disease,” Sociology of Health & Illness, 35 (2013), pp. 241-254,

Nancy Tomes, “”Destroyer and Teacher”: Managing the Masses During the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic.” Public Health Reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974) vol. 125 Suppl 3,Suppl 3 (2010): 48-62.

Online Activity

Browse Twitter to read up on the issues being discussed under the hashtags #COVID-19, #coronanederland, and/or #coronavirusnl

If Twitter is not easy for you to manage, browse the live updates blog from the UK newspaper The Guardian, which is keeping up with international developments:

Recommended Reading: 

See this crowdsourced syllabus for a wide range of relevant readings, films, music, novels, and archival collections:

Key classic texts: We discussed HIV/AIDS in a previous class but there are some very powerful lessons to be learnt form that pandemic. See below for some key works on the topic:

Richard McKay, ‘Patient Zero’: The Absence of a Patient’s View of the Early North American AIDS Epidemic.

Kevin Moseby, “Two regimes of HIV/AIDS: The MMWR and the socio‐political construction of HIV/AIDS as a ‘black disease’,” Sociology of Health and Illness, 39:7 (September 2017), pp. 1068-1082.

Charles Rosenberg, “What is an Epidemic? AIDS in Historical Perspective,” Daedalus 188 (1989), pp.1-17.

Paula Treichler, How to Have Theory in an Epidemic (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).

And Duke University Press has made a free download available of Priscilla Wald’s book, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke University Press, 2008).