Epidemics and Endemics: Messages from the Past, Lessons for Tomorrow

Posted by University of Pennsylvania on August 10, 2015

Date: September 10, 2015
Time: 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM

Location: College of Physicians & Mütter Museum, 19 S 22nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

What Can History Show Us About Epidemics?

This colloquium examines professional and societal responses to infectious diseases of both an epidemic and endemic nature. Speakers David Barnes (University of Pennsylvania, Department of History & Sociology of Science) and Cynthia Connolly (University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing) will discuss the phenomenon of infectious diseases from a historical perspective, drawing connections from the past that are useful for understanding the ways in which today’s health care professionals, policy makers and the public address current infectious threats. ​


David S. Barnes
Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania

“Lessons from the Lazaretto, From Yellow Fever to Ebola”

ABSTRACT: At first glance, recent headline-grabbing epidemics like MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and Ebola hemorrhagic fever only amplify the dire warnings we have been hearing from journalists and public health officials since at least the mid-1990s: globalization has shrunk the world, leaving us all only a plane ride away from the latest deadly virus against which we are frighteningly vulnerable. A small dose of historical perspective can be therapeutic, however. Careful examination of responses to epidemics from yellow fever in the 1790s to Ebola in 2014 reveal surprising patterns that may show us the way forward to less hysterical and more effective responses to future public health threats.

Cynthia Connolly
Department of
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing

“Children of the Sun:” Pennsylvania, Tuberculosis Prevention, and Children in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries​

ABSTRACT: A large and rapidly growing body of research is documenting the impact of the “social determinants of health” on child well-being. But often these discussions are framed nostalgically, suggesting that the United States, in a halcyon not-too-distant past, was a better place for children. But if there ever was a time when this existed, it was the exception, not the norm. Using tuberculosis in early twentieth century Pennsylvania children as a case study, I trace not only the roots of the United States’ fragmented approach to children and their needs, but also how access to health and social welfare services, judgements regarding social and physical environments, emerging research surrounding biology and genetics, and perceptions of individual choices framed the nation’s response to a major cause of child morbidity and mortality in the first part of the twentieth century​.​


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