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The History of Public Health

Spring 2005

Jonas Salk administering a vaccination



Graham Mooney, PhD


Course Description

In the course History of Public Health we will examine the historical experience of health and illness from a population perspective. The course seeks to reveal how the organization of societies facilitates or mitigates the production and transmission of disease. It also asks how do populations and groups of individuals go about securing their health? One key theme of the course is the medical management of space in one form or another--from the public space of the environment through institutional spaces such as schools and workplaces to personal/individual body space. The progression of the lecture classes reflects this, working "inwards" from the environment to individuals.

The course provides an historical interpretation of how the theory and practice of public health in today's world has come to be what it is. We will concentrate primarily on the modern world (i.e., 1750 onwards) and omit detailed examination of public health in antiquity and the middle ages, although these time periods will be alluded to frequently. A thematic rather than chronological structure will be adopted so that comparisons can be made across the centuries and between different parts of the globe.

Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to examine public health through its historical context and use this information in the evaluation of current public health issues.


Ibsen, Henrik (1964). A Public Enemy in Ghosts and Other Plays, trans. Peter Watts, London: Penguin Books.

Porter, Dorothy (1999). Health, Civilization, and the State: A History of Public Health from Ancient to Modern Times.

You may purchase any of these materials from Matthews Medical Book Center.

Course Topics

We will address historical developments in the following themes:
  • The "New" Public Health
  • Quarantine
  • Sanitary Idea
  • Workplace Health
  • Public Health in the School and the Home
  • Vaccination
  • Professionalization

Course Format

The content of this course is divided into eight separate lectures to be completed over a period of eight weeks. The lecture sections are presented sequentially and should be listened to in that order.

There will be two types of discussion sessions in this course: LiveTalks and Bulletin Board discussions. Both of these discussion sessions involve all the students and Dr. Mooney.

The four Bulletin Board sessions will revolve around discussion questions posed by Dr. Mooney. When participating in the discussions, you should seek to develop thoughtful responses to the questions and the responses of other students. Regular participation is expected, though the quality of your comments is more important than the quantity. The class will likely be broken down into two or more groups to better facilitate discussion. The Bulletin Board forums will be open for one week each.

Grading Policy

This is a pass/fail course. A passing grade can be achieved through meaningful participation in the LiveTalk and Bulletin Board discussions and successful completion of the final examination. You are expected to listen to all the lectures.

Grades will be allocated on the basis of the following distributions:

  • Participation: 20%
  • Final-examination: 80%


    Week 1 A History of Modern Public Health: Introducation


    Lecture 1

    Lecture 2

    Week 2 The Sanitary Idea

    Surveillance - The World of Work

    Lecture 3

    Lecture 4

    Week 3 Education and Mothering

    Body Spaces: From Inoculation to Immunization

    Lecture 5

    Lecture 6

    Week 4 Professionalization and Expertise Lecture 7   Tell A Friend