Our class will read about epidemic disease with one eye toward exploring personal responses to plague in literature and the other toward understanding the ways communities have responded to the risks and dislocations of epidemic disease. Some motifs are constants across centuries and cultures—the anguish of sudden loss, the mysteries of why some fall victim while others evade illness, and the confusion that accompanies the breakdown of social institutions and the habits of ordinary life. Other aspects of the experience change over time, especially the conceptual frameworks through which plague has been understood, treated, and prevented. We shall be thinking about these continuities and discontinuities as we read classics, such as, Albert Camus’ The Plague, as well as some yet-to-be classics, such as, James C. Mohr’s Plague and Fire: Battling Black Death and the 1900 Burning of Honolulu’s Chinatown.
The class will be discussion-centered and will require frequent writing assignments. Many of the assignments will be short exercises aimed at acquainting students with Frost Library’s resources and with some of the numerous research tools that have become available online in recent years. Others will be brief essays on common readings.