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Higher Education Modules

Responding to AIDS: History, Politics and Visual Culture


The following projects can be assigned to expand students’ understanding and analysis of the classroom discussions and are intended for use in a variety of academic disciplines.

Public Health Poster Project

After revisiting the online exhibitions Visual Culture and Public Health Posters and Surviving and Thriving: AIDS, Politics and Culture, ask students to make their own public health poster on the subject of HIV/AIDS or another contemporary public health challenge. Students can use be asked to develop original art work, cut and paste images from magazines or the Internet, etc. Posters should be a uniform size 18” x 24”. On the day the posters are due, students may also be asked to present their poster to the class and briefly discuss its content and design. For writing-intensive courses, ask students to explain the message of their poster, the techniques employed, and audiences targeted in a 500 word essay that also addresses the topics addressed in the educational module’s secondary-source readings.

Oral History Project

In this assignment, students are asked to play the role of the historian by creating their own oral history modeled on those cited in the Responding to AIDS module. Ask students to interview a friend, family member, or new acquaintance (someone who was between the ages of 18-30 in the early 1980s) about their experiences during the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Students should conduct a brief pre-interview (typically 5-10 minutes) to explain the project goals and obtain background information on their subject. Students will then conduct and record the interview in person or by speaker phone. Depending on the individual and situation this should take about 30-60 minutes. Students should ask open ended questions that engage the themes of the module, including issues of politics, stigma, media representations, and the variety of responses to AIDS in its early years. The completed assignment will include four components: 1) an introduction detailing the setting of the interview and the background information for the interviewee; 2) a 3-4 page summary of the interview; 3) 3-4 short quotations transcribed from the interview to illustrate key viewpoints; and 4) a conclusion, which includes a summary reflection and evaluations of the interview and the value of oral history as a tool for historical research (i.e. what are its advantages and disadvantages?). In a follow-up class meeting, instructors can also use these oral histories to summarize and illustrate the main themes of the educational module by asking students to read excerpts in class.

Comparative Responses Project

Ask students to read the Kaiser Family Foundation report “Responding to AIDS at Home and Abroad: How the U.S. and Other High Income Countries Compare.» The report examines the United States’ response to HIV during its first 30 years in comparison to seven similarly situated nations. Students may be asked to write an extended analytical essay that compares and contrasts any of the following topics or combination of topics addressed in the Responding to AIDS educational module and the report: the evolution and governance of official national AIDS responses, the roles of affected communities and non-government actors, prevention, care and treatment, research, stigma and discrimination, and level of engagement with the global response to AIDS. Alternatively, students can be assigned to groups and asked to report on the topics in a follow-up class meeting.


The following resources are provided for instructors and students interested in obtaining additional information on the subjects addressed in the Responding to AIDS educational module. These resources may also be used to facilitate research projects on the subject of AIDS history, visual culture, the portrayal of AIDS in the media, AIDS-related stigma, target populations, preventive public health practices, biomedical responses to AIDS, AIDS activism, and global perspectives on HIV/AIDS. Examples of oral history projects and links to external websites providing contemporary information on HIV/AIDS are also listed below.

  • AIDS and the Biomedical Response
    • Cohen, Jon. Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.
    • Feldman, Eric A and Ronald Bayer, eds. Blood Feuds: AIDS, Blood, and the Politics of Medical Disaster. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
    • Gallo, Robert C. Virus Hunting: AIDS, Cancer and the Human Retrovirus: A Story of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books, 1991.
    • Haritos, Rosa. “The Forging of a Collective Truth: A Sociological Analysis of the Discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1993).
    • Kontaratos, Nikolas. Dissecting a Discovery: The Real Story of How the Race to Uncover the Cause of AIDS Turned Scientists Against Disease, Politics Against Science, Nation Against Nation. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2007.
    • Montagnier, Luc. Virus: The Codiscoverer of HIV Tracks Its Rampage and Charts the Future, trans. Stephen Sartarelli. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.
    • Oppenheimer, Gerald M. AIDS Doctors: Voices from the Epidemic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • AIDS Culture and Activism
    • Chambre, Susan Maizel, Fighting for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Community and the Politics of Disease. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
    • Epstein, Steven. Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
    • Jones, Cleve. Stitching a Revolution: The Making of an Activist, with Jeff Dawson. San Francisco: Harper, 2001.
    • Kayal, Philip M. Bearing Witness: Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Politics of AIDS. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.
    • Kramer, Larry. Reports from the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
    • Treichler, Paula A. How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
    • Wachter, Robert M. “AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Health.” New England Journal of Medicine 326 (1992): 128-33.
  • AIDS History
    • Allen, Peter L. The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
    • Berridge, Virginia and Philip Strong, eds. AIDS and Contemporary History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
    • Engel, Jonathan. The Epidemic. New York: Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2006.
    • Fee, Elizabeth and Daniel M. Fox, eds. AIDS: The Making of a Chronic Disease. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
    • Grmek, Mirko D. History of AIDS. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
    • Hannaway, Caroline, Victoria A. Harden, and John Parascandola, eds. AIDS and the Public Debate: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Washington DC: IOS Press, 1995.
    • Harden, Victoria A. AIDS at 30: A History. Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012.
    • Pepin, Jacques. The Origins of AIDS. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
    • Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
  • AIDS, Media, and Stigma
    • Crawford, Robert. “The Boundaries of the Self and the Unhealthy Other—Reflections on Health, Culture and AIDS.” Social Science & Medicine 38(1994)):1347–1365.
    • Earnshaw, Valerie A. and Stephenie R. Chaudoir. “From conceptualizing to measuring HIV stigma: a review of HIV stigma mechanism measures.” AIDS and Behavior 13 (Dec. 2009): 1160-77.
    • Kinsella, James. Covering the Plague: AIDS and the American Media. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
    • Mahajan, Anish P., et al. “Stigma in the HIV/AIDS epidemic: A review of the literature and recommendations for the way forward.” AIDS 22 (2008, Suppl. 2): S67-S79.
    • Sacks, Valerie. “Women and AIDS: An analysis of media misrepresentations.” Social Science & Medicine 42 (1996): 59-73.
    • Sontag, Susan. AIDS and Its Metaphors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989.
  • Global Perspectives
    • Altman, Dennis. “Globalization, Political Economy, and HIV/AIDS.” Theory and Society 28 (1999): 559-584.
    • —. “Sexuality and Globalization.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 1 (2004): 63-68.
    • Farmer, Paul. “Global AIDS: New Challenges for Health and Human Rights.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 48 (2005): 10-16.
    • Kirp, David L and Ronald Bayer, eds. AIDS in the Industrialized Democracies: Passions, Politics and Policies. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
    • Knight, Lindsay. UNAIDS: The First 10 Years, 1996–2007. Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS, 2008.
    • Mann, Jonathan, ed. Global AIDS Policy Coalition, AIDS in the World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.
    • O’Manique, Colleen. “Global Neoliberalism and AIDS Policy: International Responses to Sub-Saharan Africa’s Pandemic.” Studies in Political Economy 73 (2004): 47–68.
  • Oral Histories
  • Target Populations, Harm Reduction, and Preventive Practices
    • Anderson, Warwick. “The New York Needle Trial: The Politics of Public Health in the Age of AIDS.” American Journal of Public Health 81 (Nov. 1991)::1506-1517.
    • Coffin, Philip O. “Marketing Harm Reduction: A Historical Narrative of the International Harm Reduction Development Program.” International Journal of Drug Policy 13 (2002): 213-24.
    • Fisher, J. D., W. A. Fisher, et al. “Changing AIDS Risk Behavior: Effects of an Intervention Emphasizing AIDS Risk Reduction Information, Motivation, and Behavioral Skills in a College Student Population.” Health Psychology 15 (1996): 114-23.
    • Mykhalovskiy, Eric, et al. “Compliance/Adherence, HIV, and the Critique of Medical Power.” Social Theory & Health 2 (2004): 315-40.
    • Parker, R. G., et al. “Structural Barriers and Facilitators in HIV Prevention: A Review of International Research.” AIDS 14 (2000): S22-S32.
    • Silenzio, Vincent M. B. “Anthropological Assessment for Culturally Appropriate Interventions Targeting Men Who Have Sex with Men.” American Journal of Public Health 93 (2003): 867-71.
  • Visual Culture
    • Barnard, Malcolm. Approaches to Understanding Visual Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
    • Evans, Jessica and Stuart Hall, eds. Visual Culture: The Reader. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001.
    • Gilman, Sander. Picturing Health and Illness: Images of Identity and Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
    • Helfand, William H. “Art in the Service of Public Health: The Illustrated Poster,” Caduceus VI (1990): 1-37.
    • Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking:: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York::Oxford University Press, 2001.
    • Walker, John and Sarah Chaplin, eds. Visual Culture: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997.
  • Web Resources on HIV/AIDS