Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Series: IsisCB Special Issue on Pandemics

This series offers discussions with the editors and authors of a special issue of the Isis Current Bibliography. It provides perspectives into the state of current scholarship on the history of pandemics, and where the field might be heading in the future. For more information, and to access the special issue, see


The open peer review site can be found here: https://pandemics.isiscb.org.

Jump to:

  1. Introduction
  2. Fundamental Concepts in Understanding Pandemic Diseases
  3. The Social and Political Dimensions of Pandemic Diseases


Neeraja Sankaran and Stephen P. Weldon introduce the series.

Get an inside view of the editorial decisions and motivations behind a special issue of the Isis Current Bibliography, which focuses on scholarship in the history of pandemics. The editors discuss several important topics, including their approach to making the special issue both open access and open peer review; their efforts to make their special issue global in scope; and their editorial management of scholarly collaboration.


Neeraja SankaranNeeraja Sankaran is a historian of science and medicine at the National Centre for Biological Sciences-TIFR, Bangalore, India. Her work focuses on the recent and near-contemporary history of biomedical sciences. An independent scholar since 2015, she has held both research and teaching positions at universities in different parts of the world, including the United States, Egypt, South Korea, India, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.


Stephen Weldon

Stephen P. Weldon is a historian of science at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism (Johns Hopkins Press, 2020) and is editor of the Isis Bibliography of the History of Science, the definitive bibliographical resource for the discipline, which goes back to 1913. In 2015, he established an online open access service called IsisCB Explore that allows anyone to search this database.


Closed-captioning available on YouTube.

Recorded August 29, 2022.

Fundamental Concepts in Understanding Pandemic Diseases


Image courtesy of Stephen Weldon.


This episode of the series features contributors who wrote and reviewed bibliographic essays surveying the literature about concepts fundamental to our understanding of pandemic and epidemic diseases, such as the broad disciplinary category of epidemiology, as well as the concepts of vaccinations and syndemics. Offering their perspectives on the significance of these topics are: Lukas Engelmann, Jacob Steere-Williams and Dora Vargha. They discuss how historians can move away from a model of biography of disease and towards a better understanding of the co-occurrence of disease epidemics with epidemics of social phenomena.


Lukas Engelmann, University of Edinburgh.
  1. A Short Bibliography of the History of Epidemiology
  2. Coinfection  Comorbidity, and Syndemics: On the Edges of Epidemic Historiography.
  Emerging Infectious Diseases and Disease Emergence: Critical, Ontological and Epistemological Approaches
Jacob Steere-Williams, College of Charleston
  1. A Short Bibliography of the History of Epidemiology & Coinfection  Comorbidity
  2. The European Perspective on Pandemics: A Bibliographic Survey
Dora Vargha, University of Exeter & Humboldt University, Berlin
Author, with Imogen Wilkins:
Vaccination and Pandemics



Closed-captioning available on YouTube.

Recorded April 24, 2023.

The Social and Political Dimensions of Pandemic Diseases


Nicholas I of Russia quells a 'cholera riot' in St Petersburg
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Following in the wake of the Isis CB special issue on pandemics, this episode of the companion podcast takes a deeper look at the societal contexts of pandemics, and also considers the impact of doing such a history during times of disease crises. Contributors Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, Keith Wailoo and Emily Hamilton share their insights and and experiences of taking stock of literature and also of the impact that COVID-19 had on their own scholarship and teaching. 


Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, Columbia University

Author, with Valentina Parisi: The Limits of Linearity: Recasting Histories of Epidemics in the Global South

Reviewer: Epidemic Inequities: Social and Racial Inequality in the History of Pandemics


Keith Wailoo, Princeton University

Author, with Michael McGovern: Epidemic Inequities: Social and Racial Inequality in the History of Pandemics



Emily Hamilton, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Author: Conclusion: What It Means



Closed-captioning available on YouTube.


Recorded October 19, 2023.

Insights from the Collections

The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about the history of science, medicine and pandemics. 

Our cross-institutional search tool allows researchers to investigate materials across multiple institutions from a single interface. With millions of catalog records of rare books and manuscripts and thousands of finding aids, the Consortium's search hub offers scholars and the public the ability to identify and locate relevant materials.

Search the Consortium search hub.


Related Publications from our Speakers:
Neeraja Sankaran, A Tale of Two Viruses Parallels in the Research Trajectories of Tumor and Bacterial Viruses (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021)
Stephen P. Weldon, The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020)
Stephen P. Weldon, “History of the World History of Science Online Project,” Acta Baltica Historiae et Philosophiae Scientiarum (2013). Open Access URL: http://www.bahps.org/09_Weldon-2013-2-09.pdf (pdf)
Stephen P. Weldon, “Recent Trends in Research in the Field of the History of Science,” Webinar Presentation for the Collections Forum on Science, Technology, and Engineering, Center for Research Laboratories, Annual Council Meeting, April 19, 2013. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDmywUFD_IA; presentation begins at 35:00 and runs to 1:17:00

Episode 1:
Lukas Engelmann, "An Epidemic for Sale: Observation, Modification, and Commercial Circulation of the Danysz Virus, 1890–1910," Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society, 112(3):439-460 (2021)
Lukas Engelmann, "A Box, a Trough, and Marbles: How the Reed-Frost Epidemic Theory Shaped Epidemiological Reasoning in the 20th Century," History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 30;43(3):1-24 (2021)
Lukas Engelmann, Mapping AIDS: Visual Histories of an Enduring Epidemic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018) (Global Health Histories)
Jacob Steere-Williams, The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England (University of Rochester Press, 2020)
Jacob Steere-Williams, “A Menace or a Martyr to the Public’s Health?” Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society, 111(4): 818-821 (2020)
Jacob Steere-Williams, “‘Coolie’ Control: State Surveillance and the Labor of Disinfection across the late Victorian British Empire,” in Rob Heynen and Emily van der Meulen (eds.) Making Surveillance Societies: Transnational Histories (University of Toronto Press, 2019)
Dora Vargha, "Technical assistance and socialist international health: Hungary, the WHO and the Korean War," History and Technology, 36(3-4): 400-417 (2021)
Dora Vargha, Polio across the Iron Curtain: Hungary's Cold War with an Epidemic (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Dora Vargha, "Socialist Utopia in Practice: Everyday Life and Medical Authority in a Hungarian Polio Hospital," Social History of Medicine, 31, 373-391 (2018)

Related forums and podcasts:
A Tale of Two Viruses, an interview with Neeraja Sankaran
Polio Across the Iron Curtain, and interview with Dora Vargha
Series: Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic (12 episodes)
Series: Perspectives on "Race Science" and Scientific Racism (10 episodes)
Sickness and the City
The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism, an interview with Stephen Weldon
Trust in Science: Vaccines


See also recent work from our fellows:
George Aumoithe, Epidemic Preparedness in the Age of Chronic Illness: Public Health and Welfare Politics in the United States, 1965-2000
Nicholas Bonneau, Unspeakable Loss, Distempered Awakenings: North America's Invisible Throat Distemper Epidemic of 1735-1765
Marcos Cueto, A History of Global AIDS and Health Activism in Brazil
Bethany Johnson, In the Aftermath of the “Lost” Pandemic: Philadelphia, 1919-1922
Julia Mansfield, The Disease of Commerce: Yellow Fever in the Atlantic World, 1793-1805
Matthew Newsom Kerr, Re-Visualizing Vaccination: The British and American “Anti-Anti-Vaccinationist” Movement, 1890-1914
Dora Vargha, Road to Eradication: Global Polio Vaccine Testing in the Cold War