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Pandemics Past and Present

Free Public Course

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought increased public interest in the intersections between past and present disease outbreaks and social responses to them. Humanities and social science scholars have discovered new opportunities for interaction with those in health care and medical sciences and new public audiences.

Pandemics Past and Present is a free, non-credential course. Students, teachers and researchers, public health workers and health practitioners, and interested members of the public are welcome to enrol.

This ten-module course has no entrance requirements. It will be offered in a blended virtual/in-person format and is accessible to people not able to attend in person. It will be offered free of charge, but participants may be responsible for purchasing reading materials. Open access readings will be used as much as possible.


This course brings past infectious disease events into dialogue with the present, promoting a historically based – and multidisciplinary – understanding of the factors shaping the relationship between pandemic/epidemic outbreaks and society. Instructors for the course will bring together diverse knowledge from community health, Indigenous, infectious disease, humanities, and social sciences perspectives.

The course will make accessible current and timely scholarly research, using teaching practices intended to be inclusive for all learners. Themes in the course will include ideas of race, gender, difference, and stigma during disease outbreaks; poverty, inequality, and disease vulnerabilities; colonialism and Indigenous healing and forms of knowledge; cultural and literary interpretations of infectious disease; global health; public health responses; and scientific knowledge and its mobilization.


There is no formal evaluation and there are no course assignments or tests.


The ten modules will be led by a team of UM researchers from a variety of disciplines. Individual class formats will vary according to the preferences of the instructor but may include lectures and presentations, roundtables, guided reading, class discussion, guest speakers, and a variety of online materials such as podcasts and short videos.

Classes will be virtually accessible via Zoom for those unable to attend in person. Opportunities will be available for those connecting remotely to engage in class discussion using OWL meeting technology. Registration is limited to 40 in-person participants. Registration for online-only participation over this limit will be considered.

Topics and Tentative Schedule

(subject to change)

In-person classes will be held on weekday late afternoons, five per term. Modules 1 through 5 are in the Fall 2023 term, Thursday late afternoons beginning October 6, 2022. There will be a class roughly every 2 weeks. In Fall, classes will be held in Room 201 St John’s College, Fort Garry Campus, UM. In Winter, classes are in Room 474 Chown Building, Bannatyne Campus. Each class will run for 60-90 minutes. ALL TIMES ARE CST.

Fall 2022

October 6, 3:00pm

Thinking about pandemics

Introduction to the course; roundtable discussion; meet and greet.

October 20, 3:00pm

Decolonization, Indigenous Experience and the History of Disease

Kiera Ladner
Political Studies

November 3, 3:00pm

Epidemics, Disease Control and Public Health: from the Black Death to Influenza

James Hanley
Margaret Haworth-Brockman
National Collaborating for Infectious Diseases

November 17, 3:00pm

Outbreak narratives, race, and the stigmatization of newcomers

Lori Wilkinson

December 1, 3:00pm

Plague in the Life, Literature and Theatre of Early Modern London

Judith Owens
English, Film, Theatre, and Media

Winter 2023

Date: January 19, 3:00pm

Emerging Disease Challenges

Jason Kindrachuk
Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Date: February 2, 3:00pm

Vaccine Decision-Making and Access

Michelle Driedger
Community Health Sciences

Date: March 9, 3:00pm

Global health and HIV/AIDS

Lyle McKinnon
Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Date: March 23, 3:00pm

Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Pandemics

Caroline Piotrowski
Community Health Sciences

Date: April 6, 3:00pm

The short and long-term socio-economic impacts of disease events

Souradet Shaw
Community Health Sciences