Canonical History of Epidemics Available For Free Download

If your response to the current Covid-19 Pandemic is the burning question, “What’s an excellent source to help me understand the diversity of human responses to epidemics across history?” then you’ve come to the right place. It just so happens that one of the most highly regarded histories of epidemics was authored a couple of decades ago by World History Association member Dr. Jo Hays: The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History.  Even better, this text (and a few others on the subject of disease) is currently available as a FREE download from the publisher, Rutgers University Press.

Jonathan Reynolds

When Hays released the first edition of The Burdens of Disease in 1998 it was quickly recognized as a masterly synthesis of the existing scholarship on infectious disease. Hays did far more than simply summarize previous work on the subject. His focus on the importance of popular understandings of disease and their influence on both public and political responses highlights how current claims that Covid-19 is a political “hoax” are not all that different from pre-modern conceptions of disease as deviltry and witchcraft. Perhaps even more important, however, is Hays’ core argument: there is a crucial link between modern epidemics and poverty; epidemics will continue to plague us until contemporary governments recognize and act to remedy this reality.

The book’s ongoing relevance was recognized with an expanded second edition in 2009—the version now freely available. This is still a most relevant text; those who read it will have a deep understanding of what we are up against. Perhaps Professor Hays will come out of retirement to provide us with a third edition after this particular pandemic has passed.

Directions for Access

To get your free copy of The Burdens of Disease, follow this link to the Rutgers Press Free eBooks about Diseases and Epidemics page. Hays’ text is at the bottom left. Click the link for “Free ebook.” You’ll be directed to supply an email address, which will result in a message being swiftly delivered to your inbox. That email will provide a link to Along the way you’ll be prompted to create an Adobe ID, if you don’t have one already. You’ll also need to download a free copy of Adobe Digital Editions. Then, after what took me only about three minutes of navigating links, file destinations, and downloads, you’ll get to click on “Download this file.”

Then you’ll be ready to read.

PS: If you tend to ask the question ”What’s an excellent source to help me understand the diversity of human responses to pretty much anything across human history?” then maybe you should think of joining the World History Association. We specialize in helping answer questions just like those.

By Jonathan Reynolds

World History Association Vice President

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