Jul 11th 2016

Microbes Rule the World: Effects of Disease on History (

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While biologists have long understood the power of disease to shape events in world history, the depth of that power has rarely emerged in history books. This course seeks to redress that imbalance through historical anecdote and scientific explanation as it investigates the ways in which diseases have affected dramatically the course of history across several topics, including religion, war, and migration.

Participants will experience video lectures and vignettes with accompanying essays and learning exercises that will introduce them to the startling influence of microbes in the course of human events. Sharing good humor and a combined seven decades of teaching and friendship, the two professors from the fields of microbiology and history have designed tiered learning materials that allow students to venture as deeply as they desire into the links between disease and history. Participants may also choose which topics interest them the most and devote their energies accordingly.

Topics covered include:

Week One: Effects of Disease on Religion

Week Two: Effects of Disease on Conquest and Exploration

Week Three: Effects of Disease on Migration and Movement of Populations

Week Four: Effects of Disease on War

Week Five: Effects of Disease on Politics

This course is self-paced and takes five weeks (one week per topic/module). To be successful, you should plan about 3-5 hours a week to interact with the course content, which includes watching the video vignettes, participating in discussions, learning important terms via crossword puzzles and Quizlets, and completing self-assessed quizzes. Further instruction is provided within each unit.


- Identify the power of disease to shape events in history

- List specific examples of the power of disease to influence historical events

- Evaluate the general lack of coverage of the effects of disease in works of history

- Explain scientific reasons for the startling influence of microbes in human history

- Describe the nature of several influential diseases

- Review scientific principles that relate to the effects of disease in history