GU4500: Pandemics in Francophone Literature and History | M. Dobie, T. Dodman

English and Comparative Literature
Graduate Seminar
Tu 2:10-4PM

In this course we explore the history of epidemics and medical confinement in France and some of its colonies/former colonies, from the 1720 plague in Marseille to recent outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19. We consider how disease, contagion, quarantine and confinement have been understood and represented, drawing on contemporary and later sources that include medical treatises, news media, personal accounts, fictional works, films and visual depictions such as paintings, illustrations and cartoons. Though we focus on disease and representation in the French and ‘francophone’ context, the course also has a comparative dimension: we turn to other historical contexts and texts associated with them when these connections are illuminating. The course is organized around a series of five case studies centering on different contagious diseases and their historical context. We will see that each of these pandemics raises its own moral, political, social and historiographical questions, though there are also connecting threads that traverse historical periods, including the linkage between epidemics and the othering of certain population groups; the intersection of colonialism, revolution and warfare with disease and the introduction of new medical protocols, and the gradual emergence of biopolitics as a framework for the relationship of individual to state.    

Discourses about contagious disease have always had a ‘literary’ dimension, making regular use of metaphor and allegory. This course explores the intersections of history and literature, considering not only these recurrent tropes but also how writers and, to a lesser extent, film-makers have explored the experiential, ethical and political aspects of illness and contagion. Without making general claims about the specificity of literature, we approach literary texts as sites that condense and catalyze philosophical and political reflection and debate. The course examines chapters in the history of disease and medicine but it also has a historiographical component as we consider how representations of epidemics have changed over time and to what extent the historical study of illness, medicine and public health helps us to think about the present

Link to Vergil
Note: only courses offered during the two previous semesters have active Vergil links.