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International History and Politics of Epidemics

Plague Column, Vienna
Plague Column, Vienna

This blog accompanies the MA seminar “International History and Politics of Epidemics” (2020/2021) at the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Vienna. The seminar is based on the assumption that throughout history, epidemics and pandemics have had an impact on societies and humanity as a whole. They had demographic, socio-economic, political and cultural repercussions and they impacted international cooperation. In return, responses to these diseases have been shaped by politics, economics, or culture. The impact of epidemics and pandemics on societies varied depending on their socio-political or economic vulnerabilities and inequalities, many of which can be explained by history. As the world faces another pandemic, Covid-19, this seminar explores ways of making sense of the current crisis by looking at the past. The seminar covers issues such as the role of science and religion in the management of epidemics or cultural and socially constructed responses to disease. Further concerns are the links of epidemics with the environment, gender, democracy, capitalism, the media, humanitarianism, international development, diplomacy, and international governance. These and other topics will be the subject of individual essay-style blog posts written by the students over several weeks. Furthermore, the blog will also feature collaborative podcasts discussing some themes in more depth. They will discuss such diverse issues such as Robert Koch’s role in colonial East Africa, the practice of quarantine, COVID in the history of “biopolitics”, epidemics and the International Red Cross after the First World War, the WHO and the eradication of smallpox, and the international response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The website is directed towards an audience interested in better understanding the current pandemic by looking at the past.