Infectious Disease and Public Health: Lessons from History

Infectious Disease and Public Health: Lessons from History


You can see the recording of this event here: 


In 2020 Covid-19 reminded us all that we can learn valuable lessons from the history of infectious disease. This webinar brings together three historians of public health in very different eras and contexts, presenting historical research which can help us better understand and manage infectious disease in the 21st century. Guy Geltner (Monash University) examines ‘Public health in the premodern world: The end of an oxymoron’. Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney) considers ‘Crisis in the Herd: A Short History of R0 and Disease Modelling’. Geraldine Fela (Monash University) explores an Australian story, ‘From Condoman to Community Control: Indigenous public health, nursing and HIV in the 1980s’.

Guy Geltner (Monash University), ‘Public health in the premodern world: The end of an oxymoron’: The new field of premodern public health has rose to some prominence during the outbreak of Covid-19, as health professionals, policy makers and ordinary citizens became aware of the efficacy of ‘low tech’ solutions often associated with earlier, ‘unhygienic’ eras. This presentation will summarize some of the field’s key insights and how they challenge entrenched narratives of modernization and common practices of cultural othering today.

Warwick Anderson (University of Sydney) considers ‘Crisis in the Herd: A Short History of R0 and Disease Modelling’: Statistical models and simulations have recently come to dominate the framing of epidemic disease, giving us concepts of ‘waves’ and ‘flattening the curve’ – but where do they come from, and where are they directing us?

Geraldine Fela (Monash University), ‘From Condoman to Community Control: Indigenous public health, nursing and HIV in the 1980s’: As HIV spread through Australia’s gay community in the early 1980s many predicted that the virus would cause a public health crisis of unprecedented proportions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but this never eventuated. This paper will examine the extraordinary public health approach that was responsible for this success, an approach led by Indigenous nurses and healthcare workers and informed by the politics of self-determination and community control.  

Presenter Bios 

Warwick Anderson, MD, PhD, is Janet Dora Hine Professor of Politics, Governance and Ethics in the Department of History and the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney; and a honorary professor in the School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.

Geraldine Fela is in the final year of her PhD candidature at Monash University. Her thesis examines the experiences of HIV and AIDS nurses in Australia prior to the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy. Her research looks at the intersection of oral history, labour history, histories of gender and sexuality and social movement studies.

Guy Geltner is a social historian of health, cities and punishment at Monash University and the University of Amsterdam. His work can be explored at


Al Thomson, Professor of History at Monash University, will host the evening and HCV Executive Officer Alicia Cerreto and Monash University's Dr Susie Protschky will facilitate the discussion.

The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

We thank the series sponsors, Monash University Publishingthe Monash University History Program and the Old Treasury Building:

Monash University Publishing - some current titles         

Old Treasury Building                                      Monash University History Program

and the organising partners:

Old Treasury Building     Monash University History Program      HCV



April 22, 2021 at 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Google map and directions
Alicia Cerreto · · 0422 519 322

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