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Disease, Climate Shocks, and Wellbeing: a Long History of Social Response to Crisis

  • Job DurationedX
  • Job Duration4 weeks long, 4-5 hours a week
  • Job DurationFree Online Course (Audit)

Project detail


There are three great challenges associated with living in society: the rise and easy spread of epidemic disease; the depletion of resources in the physical environment owing to the intensity of habitation and/or resource use; and interpersonal and intergroup conflict. To counter these negatives, the benefits of living in society include the capacity to pool resources for building infrastructure for protection, resilience and renewal; the opportunity to accumulate learning over time and to share clever ideas or new technologies over space; and the possibility of specialization across individuals in their skills and the work they perform for greater efficiency of output relative to required inputs. These broadly opposing forces are in constant dialog with each other, and have been for as long as humans have lived in social communities larger than the family or isolated tribe. That is to say, these forces have been at work for all of recorded history, but also deep into the archeological past. The costs of crowding are countered by the benefits of exchange and specialization, and vice versa. This course will explore the issues of disease and resource constraints through a number of historical cases, to understand their impact on social organization and the standard of living.


Introduction: Looking at History

  • What does the study of history bring?

  • What is the Standard of Living?

  • Tools of Historical Demographers

  • Theories of Historical Demography

  • The Urban Mortality Penalty

Case Study: Plague

  • Introduction to the Bubonic Plague

  • Historical Tools: Documentary Evidence

  • Historical Tools: Bioarchaelogy & Ancient DNA Recovery

  • Historical Tools: Material Culture

  • How did society respond to plague?

Case Study: Climate Change

  • Climate fluctuations over time

  • Historical Tools: Palaeoclimatology

  • Historical Tools: Documentary Evidence

  • Historical Tools: Mapping & Visualizations

  • Impact of Climate change on societal wellbeing

Case Study: Smallpox

  • Introduction to Smallpox

  • Tracing Smallpox through history

  • Smallpox in the New World & the Virgin Soil Hypothesis

  • Smallpox & Vaccination

  • The Eradication of Smallpox

Society, Shocks & Wellbeing

  • Theories of Wellbeing

  • Resilience in the Face of Shocks​

Languages required