Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

Plagues, Pandemics, and Society

From the level of the molecule and the cell to the scope of populations, cultures, and civilizations, infectious diseases have profoundly shaped human biology and the human experience.

Photo of Jan Cooper and Jordan Price
Instructors for the Plagues, Pandemics, and Society learning community are Jan Cooper and Jordan Price.
Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

Plagues, Pandemics, and Society

Offered Fall 2018

In this learning community, students will explore infectious diseases from both a scientific and a humanistic perspective, addressing questions like: How do pathogenic microbes cause disease in humans? How do certain infections spread within human populations to become epidemics? How have artists used various media to understand and respond to infectious diseases? How have scientists studied infectious diseases? How have cultural stigma, prejudice, and ignorance factored into the response to infectious diseases? 

This learning community, comprised of two courses, will appeal to students who are interested in the intersections of science, society, and language. A First-Year Seminar will focus on how representations of HIV/AIDS in films and works at the Allen Memorial Museum of Art have formed ways of talking about infectious disease. It explores, in other words, rhetorics - that have shaped social, political, and historical understandings of the infection.

A non-majors biology class will take an inquiry-based approach to understanding the basic biology of a variety of host/pathogen interactions and investigate how infectious diseases intersect with society in global health. Across both courses, students will have the opportunity to compare and contrast how disciplines such as biology, history, cinema studies, and contemporary rhetoric can contribute to understanding infectious disease epidemics. The cluster will include an assignment shared with students at American University of Nigeria.

BIOL 047 and FYSP014 are both required for enrollment in this learning community.


Course instructors for this learning community are Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Jan Cooper, and Assistant Professor of Biology Jordan Price.

Jordan Price, instructor

BIOL 047 The Biology of Infectious Diseases and their Global Impact
Meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 2:30 p.m., 4 credit hours, enrollment 15

Required as part of the Plagues, Pandemics, and Society StudiOC learning community.

Diseases caused by pathogenic microbes have played a monumental role in shaping human societies throughout history and continue to sicken and kill people worldwide. In this course, we will take an inquiry-based approach to explore the underlying biology of diseases caused by pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and protozoan parasites, including HIV/AIDS, plague, smallpox, malaria, syphilis, and influenza, among others. We will also investigate the problematic history of how infectious diseases have been studied and intervened upon by science, medicine, governments, and societies. Assignments will emphasize integration of infectious disease biology with the human experience of disease in written and multimedia projects.

Jan Cooper, instructor

FYSP 014 Silence=Death: Rhetorics of HIV/AIDS
Meets Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m., 4 credit hours, enrollment 15

Required as part of the Plagues, Pandemics, and Society StudiOC learning community.

The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the late 20th century created one of the most contested intersections of science, culture, and politics of modern history. Using cinema, activist art and academic scholarship, students in this course will explore the variety of ways of discussing HIV/AIDS that have arisen across the globe with the disorder.

Assignments will include weekly informal and formal writing assignments combined with frequent small group and one-on-one discussions. College level reading, viewing, writing and speaking skills to develop critical thinking across disciplinary boundaries will be emphasized.