Alderman Stacks


The recent Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa and the emerging threat from the Zika virus reminds us that we remain vulnerable to fast-spreading infectious agents. The 1918 influenza spread quickly, infecting half a billion people worldwide and killing approximately 75 million, most of whom were young and healthy.

While some advances in vaccination have been made, the still primitive state of antiviral medicines leaves us susceptible to future epidemics. Additionally, the overuse of antibiotics threatens to generate resistant bacterial strains which will be difficult to contain once resistance becomes established.

Combining Malaria Care and Vaccinations in Mali (photo courtesy of Doctors Without Borders)

The Epidemics Forum aims to provide the tools to develop an understanding of the biological, mathematical, and societal impacts of epidemics. A broader understanding of the causes and consequences of epidemics is important to developing strategies to mitigate their future impact and lessen the human suffering associated with epidemics.


Iggy Provencio, Associate Professor of Biology

My research is focused on the non-visual effects of light in mammals.  Like our ears, which are used for hearing and balance, our eyes are also dual function sensory organs.  We use our eyes to construct images of our surroundings — a process we call vision.  Vision is initiated in the retina by light-sensitive cells called rods and cones.  However, we also use our eyes to detect light to control a vast array behavior and physiology.  These non-visual responses to light are not controlled by rods and cones but rather are carried out by a new class of light-sensitive cells in the eye discovered by me and my colleagues.  These cells are involved in resetting our internal 24-hour clock, controlling the size of our eye’s pupil, and mediating the alerting effects of light (such as the light coming off of your hand-held electronics).  My lab continues to identify previously unknown effects of light that are controlled through these new light-sensing cells.

In the past I have taught upper-level courses including Biological Clocks and Sensory Neurobiology.  I am looking forward to co-directing the Epidemics Forum with John Shepherd (Anthropology).  We look forward to embarking upon a two-year exploration of the pervasive impacts of epidemics on our health, culture, history, and humanity.  

John Shepherd, Associate Professor of Anthropolgy

I am a social anthropologist with interests in population history, anthropological demography, disease history and ecology, Chinese societies, and the social history of Taiwan.  My current research includes the impact of the 1918 influenza pandemic in East Asia, the role of smallpox variolation and vaccination in the control of smallpox in late 19th and early 20th century Taiwan, and differences in the prevalence of footbinding in Taiwan and northeast China in the nineteenth century.  Previous publications include historical demographic studies of trends in and regional variation in causes of death and mortality in early 20th century Taiwan, high fertility and maternal and infant mortality in early 20th century Taiwan, marriage and abortion practices among the Austronesian Siraya of Taiwan in the 17th century, and the impact of sojourning on demographic characteristics of Chinese immigrant populations.    

My interest in epidemic outbreaks of infectious disease grows out of my interest in disease history and historical demography.   Sudden large scale outbreaks of disease create immediate challenges for societies, including providing care for the stricken, impeding further spread of the infection, preventing panic, and maintaining public order.  Human societies grapple with religious, and scientific frameworks to understand these tragedies.   In the case of newly emerging diseases societies confront never before seen infections, sometimes highly lethal, which have crossed from other species into the human population. These new diseases are especially challenging because they require the rapid mobilization of disease scientists and epidemiologists to identify and analyze the pathogens and their means of transmission, and the forces that amplify or impede their spread, before they can be effectively dealt with.  

Students in the epidemics forum will learn about historical and contemporary responses to epidemics, and the tools modern societies bring to bear on epidemic outbreaks.  We will examine these responses from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, ranging from public health and the lab sciences, to religious, anthropological and political perspectives.

Navigating the Forum

In the first semester (Fall ’16), you will enroll in FORU 1500: Introduction to the Epidemics Forum. Team-taught by Iggy Provencio and John Shepherd, the course provides introductory lectures and workshops regarding the causes and consequences of epidemics.

In semester two (Spring ’17), you will enroll in ANTH 2280: Medical Anthropology. The course introduces medical anthropology, and contextualizes bodies, suffering, healing and health. It is organized thematically around a critical humanist approach, along with perspectives from political economy and social constructionism. The aim of the course is to provide a broad understanding of the relationship between culture, healing (including and especially the Western form of healing known as biomedicine), health and political power.

In semesters three (Fall ’17), you will enroll in ANTH 3130: Disease, Epidemics, and Society. Topics covered in this course will include emerging diseases and leading killers in the twenty-first century, disease ecology, disease history and mortality transitions, the sociology of epidemics, the role of epidemiology in the mobilization of public health resources to confront epidemics, and the social processes by which the groups become stigmatized during disease outbreaks.

In the fourth and final semester (Spring ’18) you will enroll in one of two FORU 2500: Capstone Seminar sections. Taught by either Iggy Provencio or John Shepherd, the capstone will incorporate lectures and workshops at an intermediate level both in intellectual challenge and application of skills.

In addition, over the course of the two years you will choose and enroll in additional courses (totaling 18-20 credits) that relate to Epidemics. The courses (see Coursework below) will expose you to the tools to develop an understanding of the biological, mathematical, and societal impacts of epidemics.


Core Required Courses (12 Credits)         

FORU 1500 Introduction to the Epidemics Forum (Fall ’16)

            Instructor: Provencio & Shepherd

ANTH 2280: Medical Anthropology (Spring ’17)

            Instructor: Carrie Douglass

ANTH 3130: Disease, Epidemics, and Society (Fall’17)

           Instructor: John Shepherd           

FORU 2500: Capstone Seminar (Spring ’18)

            Instructors: Provencio & Shepherd

Electives (18-20 Credits)

Group 1

Select 1 of the following (3 credits):

  • STAT 2120* Introduction to Statistics
  • STAT 2020* Introduction to Biostatistics
  • MATH 1190  Survey of Calculus with Algebra
  • MATH 1210* Applied Calculus I
  • MATH 1310* Calculus I

*or a higher level calculus or statistics course

Group 2

Select 2 of the following (6-8 credits):

  • BIOL 1050 Genes and Citizens
  • BIOL 1210 Human Biology and Disease
  • BIOL 2100 Introduction to Biology with Lab: Cell Biology & Genetics
  • BIOL 2200 Introduction to Biology with Lab: Organismal & Evol Biology

Group 3

Select 2 of the following courses from two departments  (6 credits):

  • CLAS 2559 Greek and Roman Science and Technology (Available Spring '17 only)
  • ENLT 2526 Studies in Fiction (Medical Narratives)
  • ENMC3559 & GDS3559 Fictions of Global Development
  • HIAF 2002 Modern African History
  • HIST 2002 The Modern World: Global History since 1760
  • HIST 2050 World History
  • HIST 2210 Epidemics, Pandemics, and History
  • PHIL 2450 Philosophy of Science
  • PHIL 3010  Darwin and Philosophy
  • PHS 3050 Introduction to Public Health
  • PHS 3095 Health Policy in the United States - An Economic Perspective
  • PHS 3130   Intro to Health Research Methods
  • PHS 3620 Built Environment & Public Health :Local to Global
  • PHS 3825 Global Public Health: Challenges and Innovation
  • RELG 2650 Theological bioethics
  • SLAV 2360 Dracula

Group 4

Select 1 of the following (3 credits):

  • ANTH 1010 Introduction to Anthropology
  • ANTH 1050 Anthropology of Globalization
  • ANTH 2270 Race, Gender, and Medicine
  • ANTH 2291 Global Culture and Public Health
  • ANTH 2590 Politics of Healing
  • ANTH 2810 Human Origins
  • ANTH 3260 Globalization and Development
  • ANTH 3340 Ecology & Society: An Intro to the New Ecological Anthro
  • ANTH 3590 Anthropology of Death and Dying
  • PLAD 2500-001 Politics, Poverty and Health
  • PLIR 3310  Ethics and Human Rights
  • PLIR 4310 Global Health and Human Rights
  • SOC 3700 Health and Society
  • WGS 2450 Gender and Environmental Justice

Required Summer ’16 Reading

Over the summer we recommend some optional reading (not required!), but do want students to pay attention to the possible emergence of a zika virus outbreak in the coming months. 

Optional Reading: a novel, and recent science journalism on pandemics:

Camus, Albert. 1972. The Plague. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New York: Vintage. 

Shah, Sonia. 2016. Pandemic, Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Khan, Ali S. with Wm. Patrick. 2016. The Next pandemic, On the Front Lines Against Humankind's Gravest Dangers. Public Affairs Press.

Zika!   Throughout the spring newspapers have carried stories documenting the spread of the zika virus in Brazil and the Caribbean, and it is now expected that this mosquito-borne virus will spread in the continental United States during the summer.  We encourage students to follow this potential outbreak as it unfolds.   Learn about the nature and origins of zika, how it is spread, and its consequences for human health. Follow the reports of the spread of the infection among humans and mosquitoes, the measures proposed to deal with the spread, and the remedies used to treat those infected. 

Health care providers, lab researchers, public health agencies, the media, and politicians will all play a role in shaping the response. So too may entrepreneurs and quacks.  Will there be an effective response?  What strategies will emerge to deal with the spread?  Mosquito control measures? Quarantine? Vaccination? New therapies?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the alternatives?  Which groups advocate which responses?    Are some regions and communities  affected more than others, why?  Many other questions are likely to arise over the course of the summer and into the fall.     

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “CDC” had a website tracking the infection: :

The World Health Organization “WHO” webpages on Zika may be accessed here: