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Higher Education Modules

Responding to AIDS: History, Politics and Visual Culture

About the Module

Eric W. Boyle received his PhD in the history of science, technology, and medicine from the University of California Santa Barbara in 2007. He has taught undergraduate courses in multiple disciplines—American History, Public Health, and History of Medicine—at higher education institutions including the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California Santa Barbara, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. His teaching experiences include working with students with diverse background and learning styles, and using online archives and exhibitions from the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine Division (HMD) as instructional materials. Dr. Boyle also has worked extensively with the HMD collections in curating “Visual Culture and Public Health Posters,” an online project featuring HIV/AIDS posters, and contributing to the Profiles in Science website in the library’s Digital Manuscripts Program. He is currently an archivist at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a lecturer at the University of Maryland, and guest researcher in the Office of History at the National Institutes of Health. His book, Quack Medicine: A History of Combating Health Fraud in Twentieth-Century America, was published in January 2013. His second book project examines the history of alternative medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

Suggested Use

The Responding to AIDS module is designed for instructors at higher education institutions. Educators and students in disciplines including the History of Science and Medicine, U.S. History, Health Education, Cultural Studies, American Studies, Visual Arts, Sociology, Public Health, and others are invited to analyze and discuss the issues raised in the Surviving and Thriving exhibition. The module is designed to provide instructional resources that an educator may adapt in whole or in parts, as is contextually appropriate for the students’ interests and academic goals.

The module outlines how instructors can use the Surviving and Thriving exhibition materials alongside additional readings, exercises, and discussion points to broaden and enrich students’ learning experiences. Responding to AIDS emphasizes the use of material available in electronic format, and is intended to capitalize in particular on resources provided by the National Library of Medicine. Each of the six classes contains a brief introduction, a list of essential readings, and several questions to consider in the class. These questions represent suggestions for opening discussions with students; they are by no means exhaustive. Instructors may wish to pursue some questions and not others, depending on the organic development of discussion within the group. The module also includes additional resources and ideas for projects in various fields of study.


At the conclusion of the module, students are expected to be able to:

  • Use primary and secondary sources of varying media types related to the subject of HIV/AIDS in order to interpret and analyze the historical response to the disease.
  • Identify and explain how the US government and health activists responded to an emerging and ultimately entrenched epidemic.
  • Engage in the field of visual culture as an area of study in order to analyze how public health campaigners visually communicate knowledge about disease, identify health risks, and promote changes in behavior.
  • Understand how stigma can shape public health policy.
  • Evaluate the process of scientific discovery and the respective roles biomedical research and epidemiology play in promoting health and preventing disease.