SELCS_ART: School of European Languages, Culture and Society

Provide a short description of the course here so that students can see what it covers if they search for it and can distinguish it from modules with a similar title.

This is a Moodle template for SELCS-CMII, adapted from the general UCL Connected Learning Moodle template (June 2020).

This is a Moodle template for SELCS-CMII, adapted from the general UCL Connected Learning Moodle template (June 2020).

Crisis and Disease in the West: Culture, Humanity and Big Data

 

Unprecedented is an overused word. This course reflecting on the history of disease and the perception of crisis in history gestures towards one possible contextualisation of the existential challenge that we face by looking back across the last millenia at other cultural responses to epidemic disease, and crises that appear to have posed a similar threat to the human species. It begins by looking at a case study of the religious fervour provoked by plague in the Italy of Boccaccio. This is followed by Daniel Defoe’s remarkable historical fiction looking back at the appalling plague outbreak of 1665 that may have killed 100,000 Londoners and was certainly killing as many as 1000 a day. His use of journalistic methods, citing bills of mortality, the legislation passed and his opinions and thoughts about the measures resorted to control the outbreak have uncanny resonances with our current situation, playing freedom off against public need. The 17th century and the Little Ice Age have been seen as an interesting test case of human resilience in the face of adverse climate and disease, in a session looking at some of the eye witness accounts, we ask what can the past teach us about political responses and the language used to discuss and understand the challenges we face. In the 20th century the HIV epidemic, rocked the world, reshaping sexual behaviour and mores. In a session looking at Susan Sontag’s metaphors of illness, the course examines the interconnectedness of language, politics and identity. Poe’s short story raises issues of time and place but is also an allegory of the way disease can cut across social hierarchy. On the other Camus’ tale of epidemic reverses the polarity of disease as metaphor, where the metaphor is the disease. The final sessions look at big data and the ways in which human identity, structural discrimination and our very world are coming under threat from a burgeoning tyranny of information, asking what we can do to preserve our right of self-determination as power lies increasingly beyond the scope of the nation and society, beyond even the physical, somewhere that really has gone viral.