One of the major cultural consequences of the second plague pandemic was its effect on attitudes towards death and the "art of dying." As a result both of its extreme virulence and the strictness of the measures imposed to combat it, plague significantly disrupted traditional customs of dealing with death. This disruption made itself felt not only in religious belief and burial practices but also in art, architecture and literature. European culture was profoundly shaped by the experience of the plague, as witnessed by the advent of symbols such as "vanitas" and the danse macabre in iconography, as well as the visual representations associated with the new cults of plague saints. The successful containment of the plague might be seen to have exercised a similarly powerful effect in shaping the philosophical project of the Enlightenment, in that the measures taken to ward off death gave material substance to theoretical claims of progress.
This course consists of an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. Leading themes include: infectious disease and its impact on society; the development of public health measures; the role of medical ethics; the genre of plague literature; the social reactions of mass hysteria and violence; the rise of the germ theory of disease; the development of tropical medicine; a comparison of the social, cultural, and historical impact of major infectious diseases; and the issue of emerging and re-emerging diseases.
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