Human Disease: From the Black Death to the Obesity Epidemic

Ref: C3744176

Mankind is subject to periodic outbursts of disease that in addition to causing widespread misery, terror and death may profoundly affect the course of history. This course will look at the underlying causes, the effects on the afflicted, the purported remedies (until recently often bizarre and ineffective) and the social impacts of some of the most catastrophic human ailments. In wealthy countries the most important health issues are now caused by non-communicable diseases. Whereas in poorer, developing countries communicable (infectious) diseases are still much more important causes of illness and death. We will consider the reasons for these differences and the prospects for future change.

Course aim

This course describes how and why epidemic diseases have been regular features of human history. The symptoms, transmission and treatment of epidemic diseases will be discussed as well as their impact on historical events and society.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Describe the main causes of death and disease in rich and poor countries and the broad outline of historical developments in patterns of disease.
  • Relate the types of agent (virus, bacteria, fungus & protozoa) responsible for major infectious disease epidemics and some of the different ways that these agents are able to rapidly spread in a human population.
  • Describe the environmental circumstances that influence the ability of humans to resist infections and how these circumstances have occurred in history to trigger and encourage the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases.
  • Explain why some historians think that epidemic diseases have had significant (and frequently underestimated) impacts on the course of human history, eg the spread of several European diseases may have led to the rapid and complete conquest of the Americas.
  • Indicate how individuals and human cultures have reported and responded to devastating diseases.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • Suggestions for further reading and online materials will be given, but these will be for interest only and it will not be required to access them in order to understand and follow the course.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor to see what you are learning which may include quizzes, question and answer, small projects and discussion
  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor

What else do I need to know?

  • Nothing else is needed
  • It would be helpful if you had access to the internet (Mobile phone, tablet or computer at home or through a library etc.)

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course

Download full course information sheet

Human Disease: From the Black Death to the Obesity Epidemic

Is this course right for me? Request more information

This course is not available for online enrolment.


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you book. Please could we ask that you check the list below to ensure you meet our basic criteria:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2019
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions

Not sure or have further questions? Contact

Visa Credit payments supported by RBS WorldPay Visa Debit payments supported by RBS WorldPay Visa Electron payments supported by RBS WorldPay Mastercard payments supported by RBS WorldPay Maestro payments supported by RBS WorldPay JCB payments supported by RBS WorldPay Solo payments supported by RBS WorldPay
RBS WorldPay Payments Processing