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Chronic Disparities

Public Health in Historical Perspective

Author Sean Andrew Wempe, Series editor Jesse Spohnholz, and Clif Stratton

Publication Date - 17 August 2020

ISBN: 9780190696252

192 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock

Each title in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series gives students the opportunity to engage with the contours of a historical argument


Growing directly out of the experiences of a team of Washington State University historians who designed a new foundational course for WSU's common requirements, the Roots of Contemporary Issues series is built on the premise that students will be better at facing current and future challenges, no matter their major or career path, if they are capable of addressing controversial and pressing issues in mature, reasoned ways using evidence, critical thinking, and clear written and oral communication skills.

To help students achieve these goals, each title in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series argues that today's problems are not simply the outcomes of yesterday's decisions: they are shaped by years, decades, and centuries of historical developments. Solving the central problems facing our world requires a deep historical understanding of the ways in which humans have been interconnected with faraway places for centuries.

Chronic Disparities: Public Health in Historical Perspective begins with a controversial and pressing issue facing students today: how have public health initiatives challenged and/or reinforced societal inequalities of race, class, and gender? It explores the cultural, political, religious, demographic, and economic effects both government and private public-health practices have had on inequalities of race, class, and gender in an increasingly globalizing society, from the pre-Modern era to the present.

Chronic Disparities examines events and processes including the emergence of public health and sanitation in Europe; the coercive globalization of systems of health; colonial medicine and the selective application of "Western" medical policy; eugenics; responses to substance abuse; the AIDS/HIV pandemic; and many more. It includes a series introduction that explains this innovative approach to learning history and a conclusion that offers a model for applying the approach in seeking to understand other public health policies, events, and crises.


  • Introduces students to history from the point of view of controversial and pressing issues they already know about and many of whom already feel invested in. This increases students' engagement, particularly for general education or required history courses.
  • Every chapter models the analysis of primary sources relevant to the subject. This allows students to imagine the variety of sources available to them for historical research, and to see how historians use different kinds of sources to make conclusions.
  • Every chapter models the engagement with and ways to resolve historiographical debate, helping students to understand that differences of interpretation do not preclude the respectful development of reasonable conclusions.
  • Where appropriate, chapters demonstrate how historians and scholars in other fields rely on one another. Helps non-majors and general education students understand how history can relate to other fields in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
  • Chapters offer depth by offering case studies in world history. Students are able to see the details of a historical argument and narrative instead of relying on surface level descriptions of historical developments.
  • Each chapter models historical knowledge as constructed, not absolute, by describing recent discovery or new conclusions that have changed historians†understanding of the past, or gaps remaining in the historical records. This allows students to understand history not just as the changing events of the past, but as a process of knowledge construction still ongoing today.
  • Connects pre-modern to modern history explicitly. Additionally, each chapter includes both Western and non-Western content. Allows readers to understand the deep past as connected to the present, and to see that the West has interacted with non-Western regions for centuries.

About the Author(s)

Sean Andrew Wempe is Assistant Professor of History at California State University, Bakersfield.


"Some of us love history for its own sake, but for most students the contents of a college history course seem detached, unrelated to their lives, even meaningless. Yet we are surrounded by the legacy of history. Everything around us--policy, population, culture, economy, environment--is a product of the actions and activities of people in the past. How can we hope to address the challenges we face and resolve contentious issues--inequality, health, immigration, climate change--without understanding where they come from? The volumes in the Roots of Contemporary Issues series are the tested products of years of classroom teaching and research. They address controversial issues with impartiality but not detachment, combining historical context and human agency to create accounts that are meaningful and usable for any student confronting the complex world in which they will live."--Trevor R. Getz, San Francisco State University

"This is a truly innovative series that promises to revolutionize how world history is taught, freeing students and faculty alike from the 'tyranny of coverage' often embedded within civilizational paradigms, and facilitating sustained reflection on the roots of the most pressing issues in our contemporary world. Students' understanding of the importance of history and their interest in our discipline is sure to be heightened by these volumes that deeply contextualize and historicize current global problems."--Nicola Foote, Arizona State University

"Most textbooks talk down to students or use an overly formal tone. Chronic Disparities avoids both of those traps. Students will connect with the chapters because each of them carries out the goals of the book of connecting current public health crises with a deeply rooted global historical past."--Jessica Pearson, Macalester College

Table of Contents

    List of Maps/Figures
    About the Author
    Series Introduction: Connecting the Past and Present

    Chapter 1. Health as a Public Utility--Local Plague Responses in the Christian & Islamic Worlds
    The 'Horrible Sickness'
    Charity & Conspiracies: Religion, the Poor, and Persecution of Jews
    Cairo: Mamluks, Ottomans, and Contagion
    Florence: Publica Utilitas, Sanitary Policies, and Persecution of the Poor

    Chapter 2. Cholera, Colonialism, and Class
    Sanitarians and Sewers: Cholera in Britain, 1830s to 1850s
    Removing the Pump Handle: The 1854 Broad Street Cholera Outbreak in London
    Cholera, Containment, and Centralization: Imperial Germany and the United States
    Reinforcing Inequalities: Cholera in British-controlled India into the 20th century

    Chapter 3. Controlling the Colonized & Female Bodies-VD Containment, Eugenics, & Experimentation in Metropole & Colony
    Mosquito Women: Tropical Medicine and Racism in STD Perception
    Politics of Prostitution: Imperial STD Controls
    Pregnancy as "STD": Racial Mixing and State Control of Sex
    The Eugenicists: Race Hygiene, STDs, and Reproductive Rights
    The "Doomed Race": Eugenics and Experimentation on Oppressed Racial Groups

    Chapter 4. "Civilizing" Addiction--From Local to Global Inequalities in the Standardization of Opium Controls
    Buddhism and Bans on Opium: Burma's Drug Controls Prior to British Rule
    From Medicine to Aphrodisiac to Pathology: Opium, Gender, and Class in China
    "Politics of the Poppy": Substance Control in the United Kingdom
    "Lady Britannia and her Children": Substance Control in the British Empire
    Global Drug Diplomacy: Replicating British Prejudices in Narcotics Control Worldwide

    Chapter 5. The Global AIDS Crisis--Stigma, Patronage, and Dependency Networks
    The Stigma of Disease: "Risk Groups" and Constructs of Morality
    The "Geography of Blame": Haiti as the Origin of HIV?
    "Out of Africa": Imperialism's Influence on Scientific Thought
    Good Intentions, Flawed Foundations: USAID, UNAIDS, & NGOs
    Uganda and TASO: Success, Discrimination, and Dependency



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