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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Workshop 7 - Disease and Historyhomesitemap
Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities - Link Classroom and Applications

Workshop 7
Classroom Applications

Reflect on how you teach public health crises, such as typhoid and polio, in your classroom. How would you teach it differently with primary sources?

Now consider these lesson ideas contributed by Primary Sources teachers:

Image of Cheryl Maloney

Conference on Future Epidemics
Contributed by Cheryl Maloney

In this activity, students held a conference to create a policy for dealing with future infectious diseases and epidemics based on the typhoid epidemic. Before this activity, the students studied the typhoid epidemic and the case of Mary Mallon.

To begin the activity, I divided students into groups and told them that they would be representatives at an early 20th-century conference. Their task was to create a policy for dealing with future outbreaks of infectious diseases based on what they learned during the typhoid epidemic. Each group chose a different role for the conference. Roles included doctors, public health officials, representatives of the courts, civil rights activists,* and friends and family of typhoid victims.

Each group used a variety of texts and primary source documents to prepare a policy to recommend at the conference. I asked the students to consider what role the government, society, and various individuals would play in creating and maintaining this policy. During the conference, the groups took turns presenting their arguments and then commenting on the cases made by the other groups. By the end of the conference, the groups attempted to come to a consensus on rules to deal with future epidemics.

Finally, the students took the rules that they listed and used them to look at actual cases of disease outbreaks, like polio or AIDS. The students compared how the epidemics were really handled to their own policy. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Should the real cases have been handled differently? If so, how?

* Although the term "civil rights activist" did not exist during this time period, I use this to refer generally to people interested in the civil rights of others.

Image of Ronald Morrison

Research Individuals Denied Rights
Contributed by Ron Morrison

As part of a study on the turn of the century, I had students do a research project on individuals who were denied certain rights and/or shunned by society. This project followed a whole-class study of the typhoid epidemic and, specifically, the case of Mary Mallon.

I assigned each group of students a person from the late 19th or early 20th century for their project. Their task was to research that person's background, particularly what put them into their difficult situation. In addition to the research portion of the project, I also asked the students to do some critical thinking and speculation: Consider what they think should have been done regarding this individual and in what other ways events could have happened.

Note: Research can be done either individually or as group research projects.


"We have an AIDS epidemic in Africa. In my Afro-American class, I want to ... put my students in teams of public officials as opposed to private [citizens] or politicians and work out how can we attack and eradicate this disease in Africa. If you were a public official -- how would you approach it? Would you approach it from the human standpoint, or would you approach it from the economic standpoint or the political standpoint?"
— Ron Morrison

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