A Cultural History of Disease

Stylised blue-green photos of a monk, a pixellated dog, a close-up spore, a person on a hill, a toy robot and a banana wrapped in chains

This series of lectures explores six physical maladies that have afflicted people throughout the world: tuberculosis, polio, breast cancer, AIDS, sickle cell disease, and dementia. The 2019-21 Covid pandemic has excited widespread interest in the social, cultural, and political meaning of illness.

The scientific frameworks through which societies try to cope with the physical maladies has been shown to be contested, opening up a wider debate about science and society. The history of disease has been characterised by dramatic breakthroughs, bitter clinical rivalries, and multi-billion pound pharmaceutical interventions.

The lectures explore questions of contemporary interest through the lens of competing scientific/medical expertise, lived experience, and historical change.