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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

Plagues and their Power on Human Society

Instructor(s): Sylvia McDevitt, Biology

Since the dawn of time, plagues have haunted humankind. Within the smallest microorganisms lies the power to forever alter history. Together, we will delve into the causative organisms and biological mechanisms behind some of the world’s most infamous epidemics. Beginning with the plagues of antiquity, we will progress through the middle ages into diseases still seen today: including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, and some ‘man-made’ bioterrors. We will examine how these diseases originated, as well as methods to fight them.

Because plagues affect the soul just as readily as the body, we will also discuss corresponding works of art and literature to gain a better understanding of how both individuals and societies cope with - and find hope amongst - the fears, stigmas, and superstitions associated with disease.

In every age, plagues have presented themselves as a seemingly insurmountable wall to a more peaceful existence for humankind; yet, overcoming them as individuals, societies, and a global community has served as a costly mechanism for vast scientific and social change.

Course Offered