Fall 2020 Epidemics and Society Syllabus

Epidemics and Society (LBST 2101)

UNC Charlotte, Fall 2020


This syllabus contains policies and expectations I have established for this course.  Please read the entire syllabus carefully and refer to it regularly throughout the semester.

Course Description

This section of LBST 2101 will explore the historical relationship between society and epidemics. Specifically, this section will explore how infectious diseases have shaped history. It will also situate contemporary experiences of infectious disease in a cultural and historical context.

To understand recurring individual, social, and governmental responses to epidemics, this course has two goals. The first goal is to examine the history of established diseases (e.g. plague, smallpox, malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, syphilis). Students will use this information to understand how these diseases continue to impact the world. The second goal of the course is to examine (re)emerging infectious diseases. This will require students to situate contemporary epidemics in a historical context.

This course will teach you to think about epidemics anthropologically. That is, to think about it non-reductively and contextually embedded. Thinking like an anthropologist is regarded as a tool for deciphering everyday experience and what it means to be human. Essentially, we are interested in who we are, where we come from, and what it means. Regardless of your major, understanding cultural and biological diversity, thinking critically and non-reductively, and culturally relative will be essential skills in whatever field and profession you’re passionate about!

Beyond the general course material, you will have the opportunity to practice your creativity, collaboration, communication, and most importantly, your critical thinking.

Course Objectives

By the end of the semester, students will be able to answer the following questions:

  • How do cultural, political, and economic factors influence the spread of infectious diseases in the past and in the present?
  • How do historical responses to infectious diseases continue to influence the way we respond to infectious diseases today? Are there lessons we can learn from the past to help us contend with the future?
  • How do race and class influence who falls ill with infectious diseases?

Required Materials

There is a required book for this class: Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader (ISBN: 978-0520257139). This text is available through the university bookstore, Amazon, and free as an eBook through UNCC library at https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.librarylink.uncc.edu/lib/uncc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=837244

Grade Components

Grade ComponentsPercentage
Basic Biology15
Weekly Critical Discussions30
Information Literacy Project25
Course Engagement20
Letter Grade Calculation (subject to change)
A = 100 to 90
B = 89.9 to 80
C = 79.9 to 70
D = 69.9 to 60
F = Below 60

Course Format


You will be placed into permanent teams for the duration of the semester. Your teams determine the people with whom you will be engaging in Weekly Critical Discussions.

Course Information

Attendance and Decorum:

This course is online-only and asynchronous so there is no attendance. However, you should make special effort to participate in the Weekly Critical Discussions by the assigned dates so that your team members are able to read and respond to your ideas.

Controversial Subject Matter:

Student participation and class discussion are highly valued and encouraged. As such, we will be exploring several potentially sensitive topics such as prejudice, discrimination, racism, and so forth. Mutual respect is key is this class. I will not tolerate disrespect under any circumstance. I ask that everyone is respectful of other people’s comments and questions even if you disagree. In the event that you find a comment another student makes to be insensitive or disrespectful, please speak up and explain your thoughts or feelings in a civil manner, or discuss the issue with me outside of class.

That being said, I expect everyone to come to class with an open mind.  You will be asked to challenge your current world view and your classmates but let us do this in a respectful manner. Active engagement is highly encouraged and rewarded. I will exercise my responsibility to manage the discussions so that ideas and argument can proceed in an orderly fashion. If you are having difficulty with participating or feel intimidated in any way, please come and see me and we can work together to find a solution.

Disability Services: 

UNC Charlotte is committed to access to education. If you have a disability and need academic accommodations, please provide a letter of accommodation from Disability Services early in the semester. For more information on accommodations, contact the Office of Disability Services at 704-687-0040 or visit their office in Fretwell 230.

Academic Integrity:

All students are required to read and abide by the UNC Charlotte Code of Student Academic Integrity available online at http://legal.uncc.edu/policies/up-407. Violations of the Code, including plagiarism, will result in disciplinary action.  The following violations of academic integrity are described in more detail online:

A. CHEATING. Intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, notes, study aids or other devices in any academic exercise. This definition includes unauthorized communication of information during an academic exercise.

B. FABRICATION AND FALSIFICATION. Intentional and unauthorized alteration or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise. Falsification is a matter of altering information, while fabrication is a matter of inventing or counterfeiting information for use in any academic exercise

C. MULTIPLE SUBMISSION. The submission of substantial portions of the same academic work (including oral reports) for credit more than once without authorization.

D. PLAGIARISM. Intentionally or knowingly presenting the work of another as one’s own (i.e., without proper acknowledgement of the source). The sole exception to the requirement of acknowledging sources is when the ideas, information, etc., are common knowledge.

E. ABUSE OF ACADEMIC MATERIALS. Intentionally or knowingly destroying, stealing, or making inaccessible library or other academic resource material.

F. COMPLICITY IN ACADEMIC DISHONESTY. Intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another to commit an act of academic dishonesty.

G. GROUP WORK.  For group work, responsibility for insuring that academic integrity standards are followed is shared by all members of the group.  In cases where an individual student is able to demonstrate that he/she neither knew of nor participated in the academic dishonesty, that individual student is not guilty of academic dishonesty.

Students must assume that all graded assignments and tests are to be completed individually unless otherwise noted in writing in this syllabus.  Lack of knowledge on how and when to cite will NOT be acceptable as an excuse for cheating. I reserve the right to report any cases of suspected plagiarism or cheating.


In order to complete your Weekly Critical Discussions, you will need to read the assigned material for the week. The reading are selected to engage you in the dynamics between society and infectious diseases.

Class Cancellation:

The class is completely online. As such, there is no need to cancel class.

Religious Accommodations: 

UNC Charlotte provides reasonable accommodations, including a minimum of two excused absences each academic year, for religious observances required by a student’s religious practice or belief. In cases where class will be missed due to religious observations, please communicate with me ahead of time.

Other Expectations:

I expect you to regularly check both Canvas and your UNC Charlotte email.  This is how I will get in touch with you and it is the best way to get in touch with me.

I also expect that you will use Canvas to access required readings and to submit your assignments.  You are responsible for doing so and should contact me in a timely manner (and before assignments are due!) should you have any difficulty.

It is your responsibility to get in touch with me early in the semester if you are struggling in the course or have questions.  I am more than happy to work with you, but I cannot do so unless you communicate with me.  I expect students to take advantage of my office hours, especially if the material or assignments seem difficult.

The University policy on withdrawal allows students only a limited number of opportunities available to withdraw from courses.  It is important for you to understand the financial and academic consequences that may result from course withdrawal.

Syllabus Amendments:

I reserve the right to alter the syllabus as necessary.   

Grading Policy

Critical Discussions (30%):

  • This assignment requires you to critically engage with the weekly topic and course material. You will complete your critical discussions in two parts. There are 13 critical discussions throughout the semester; you are responsible for completing at least 10. 
    • Part 1 (DUE WEDNESDAY BY 7pm)
  • You will generate one question that the readings answer. Tell me the question and answer it by referencing material from the readings. 
  • Write a question that came to mind while reading the week’s articles. You do not have to answer it.
  • Part 2 (DUE SUNDAY BY 11:59pm)
    • Respond to THREE of your classmates’ posts.
      • Your responses should be substantial. This means that you should avoid posts like: “I agree”, “that’s interesting”, etc. 
      • Things you can do (you are not limited to these):
        • Try to answer the question your classmate poses.
        • Clarify a misunderstanding your classmate has.
        • Elaborate on a point your classmate has.

Basic Biology (15%):

  • For each infectious disease, you will complete an evaluation of its basic biology. You will find the answers to the following:
    • Infectious agent
  • Mode(s) of transmission
  • Geographic distribution
  • Reservoirs? If so, what?
  • Prevalence
  • Incidence
  • Mortality rates
  • Recommended treatment(s)
  • Preventative measure(s)        

Self-Assessments (10%):

  • Throughout the semester, you will be asked to honestly assess your engagement with the course material. This assignment is designed to give you space to reflect on and evaluate your own work and determine ways in which you can improve or maintain your progress. 

Engagement (20%):

  • Your “Course Engagement” grade is decided by your engagement in the course material. You are assessed by the quality of your weekly critical discussion posts, the quality of your responses to your classmates, and thoughtfully engaging with the course material. 

We will discuss your progress throughout the semester so that I can ensure that I am providing you the sufficient support for learning to think anthropologically.  

Information Literacy Project (25%):

  • For the overarching project, you will learn information literacy, how to evaluate evidence, and clearly communicate scientific findings. The ultimate goal of the project is to create an infographic that could be used to educate people about your selected topic. The project will be broken into four parts: Part 1: Topic selection; Part 2: Annotated bibliography (parts 1 and 2); Part 3: Proposal; Part 4: Infographic: Final product (details are available on Canvas). 

“Scientists and the general public alike are bombarded with scientific information from a variety of sources. Interpreting this information requires some degree of scientific literacy. As such, improving scientific literacy is widely recognized as an important goal for K-12, post-secondary, and informal education in the United States” (Lovitt and Shuyler, 2016).

Sinatra, Kienhues, and Hofer (2014) describe three main challenges to public understanding of science: difficulty in understanding the process of scientific reasoning, misconceptions about the science, and unconscious biases. Difficulties in understanding the process of scientific reasoning arise when nonscientists are unprepared to handle knowledge conflicts (epistemic knowledge) and/or they are more likely to be persuaded by arguments that appeal to self (personal pleas) rather than logic. 

Scientific and information illiteracy, and innumeracy make living in an age of information overload very difficult. It has become all the more important to be able to effectively evaluate the scientific narratives that we encounter and discriminate between accurate and inaccurate information. 

The objectives of the project are to:

  • learn to discriminate between accurate and inaccurate information.
  • understand how scientists and other experts generate data.
  • empower you to engage in critical discourse on your selected topic. 
  • give you tools to dispute inaccurate and misleading information. 
  • practice communicating information clearly and succinctly. 
  • give you the opportunity to explore your own interests as it relates to anthropology.


Lovitt, C. F., & Shuyler, K. (2016). Teaching climate change concepts and the nature of science: A library activity to identify sources of climate change misconceptions. In Integrating Information Literacy into the Chemistry Curriculum (pp. 221-246). American Chemical Society.

Sinatra, G. M.; Kienhues, D.; Hofer, B. K. 2014. Addressing Challenges to Public Understanding of Science: Epistemic Cognition, Motivated Reasoning, and Conceptual Change. Educ. Psychol., 49, 123–138.

Extra Credit

Extra credit is only offered in the form of term papers. If you wish to write a term paper, we can discuss a topic. You can then either write a 5-page or 10-page term a paper (worth up to 5 or 10 points on your final grade respectively).


  • Week 1: Setting the Stage
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Key Terms Handout
      • Farmer: “Social Medicine and the Challenge of Biosocial Research”
    • Watch
      • “In Sickness and In Wealth” Film
      • Week 1 Mini-lecture
    • Complete
      • Film Reflection
      • Getting to Know You
      • My Goals this Semester: Self-Assessment 1
  • Week 2: COVID-19 Epidemiology
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Caduff: “What Went Wrong? Corona and the World After the Full Stop”
    • Watch
      • My response to your reflections and intro to Week 2
      • SARS-CoV-2 Replication Cycle
    • Complete
      • SARS-CoV-2 Basic Biology
      • SARS-CoV-2 Critical Discussion
  • Week 3: COVID-19 Culture and Conspiracy
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Millett et al.: “Assessing Differential Impacts of COVID-19 on Black Communities”
      • Georgiou et al.: “COVID-19-related Conspiracy Beliefs and their Relationship with Perceived Stress and Pre-existing Conspiracy Beliefs”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 3
      • Why People Believe COVID-19 Conspiracies
    • Complete
      • SARS-CoV-2 Critical Discussion pt. 2
  • Week 4: Cholera
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Cueto: “Stigma and Blame During and Epidemic”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 4
      • The Seventh Epidemic
    • Complete
      • Cholera Basic Biology
      • Cholera Critical Discussion
      • Project Topic Selection
  • Week 5: Malaria
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Dubisch: “Low Country Fevers: Cultural Adaptations to Malaria in Antebellum South Carolina”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 5
      • How Malaria was Eradicated in the US
    • Complete
      • Malaria Basic Biology
      • Malaria Critical Discussion
  • Week 6: Yellow Fever
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • McNeill: “Ecology, Epidemics, and Empires: Environmental Change and the Geopolitics of Tropical America”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 6
      • Fever 1793
    • Complete
      • Yellow Fever Basic Biology
      • Yellow Fever Critical Discussion
      • Project Annotated Bibliography pt. 1 (popular sources)
  • Week 7: Smallpox
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Fenn: “Biological Warfare in 18th Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 7
      • The Last Smallpox Outbreak in America
      • The Eradication of Smallpox
    • Complete
      • Smallpox Basic Biology
      • Smallpox Critical Discussion
      • Getting the Grade that I Want: Self-Assessment 2
  • Week 8: Plague
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Russell: “That Earlier Plague”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 8
      • DeWitte: “The Past, Present, and Future of the Bubonic Plague
    • Complete
      • Plague Basic Biology
      • Plague Critical Discussion
      • Project Annotated Bibliography pt. 2 (scholarly sources)
  • Week 9: Syphilis
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Thomas and Quinn: “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 1932-1972: Implications for HIV Education and AIDS Risk Education Programs in the Black Community
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 9
      • Syphilis Laboratory: The Legacy of US Syphilis Experiments Still Plagues Guatemala
    • Complete
      • Basic Biology
      • Syphilis Critical Discussion
  • Week 10: Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy)
    • Read:
      • Guiding Questions
      • Gussgow: “Hawaii: An Imperialist Solution”
    • Watch:
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 10
      • What Happens when you get Leprosy?
    • Complete
      • Leprosy Basic Biology
      • Leprosy Critical Discussion
  • Week 11: Influenza
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 11
      • The 1918 Pandemic: The Deadliest Flu in History
      • The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in America: The Struggle Against Spanish Flu
    • Complete
      • Influenza Basic Biology
      • Influenza Critical Discussion
      • Accountability Check: Self-Assessment 3
  • Week 12: Tuberculosis
    • Read
      • Guiding Questions
      • Farmer: ‘Social Scientists and the New Tuberculosis”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 12
      • Tuberculosis and Antibiotic Resistance in Russian Prisons
    • Complete
      • Project Topic Proposal (putting your work together)
  • Week 13: HIV/AIDS
    • Read
      • Farmer et al.: “Structural Violence and Clinical Medicine”
      • Farmer: “Women, Poverty, and AIDS”
    • Watch
      • Week 13 Introduction
      • Iwasa: Why is it so Hard to Cure HIV/AIDS?
    • Complete
      • HIV/AIDS Basic Biology
      • HIV/AIDS Critical Discussion
  • Week 14: Suffering and Human Rights
    • Read   
      • Farmer: “On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below”
      • Gravlee: “How Race Becomes Biology: Embodiment of Social Inequality”
    • Watch
      • My response to your critical discussions and intro to Week 14
    • Complete
      • Suffering and Rights Critical Discussion
  • Week 15: Wrapping up
    • Complete
      • Final Self-Assessment
      • Submit your project infographic to the discussion board

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