Skip Navigation Bar


Higher Education Modules

Society at Odds: the Evolution of AIDS Outreach and Education in America

Class 6: Legacies and Memories

The final class offers students a longer view of AIDS with its impact as not only a medical issue, but also a social and cultural issue. Valdiserri’s piece offers a first person perspective on the development of group reactions and representations that shaped and continue to shape how Americans respond to AIDS. Brandt examines AIDS and other diseases as social issues that challenge our abilities to understand our own cultural mores and values. Finally, Sturken writes about the Names Project’s AIDS Memorial Quilt, a memorial assembled from more than 48,000 panels collected nationwide since 1987. Sturken argues that the cultural creation and preservation of history selectively represents pieces of AIDS history and its impact on our national memory.


Valdiserri, Ronald O. “The Epidemiology of Anger.” In Gardening in Clay: Reflections on AIDS. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, pp. 17-21.

Brandt, Allan M. “AIDS and Metaphor: Toward the Social Meaning of Epidemic Disease.” Social Research, 55:3, In the Time of Plague (Autumn, 1988), pp. 413-432.

Sturken, Marita. “Conversations with the Dead: Bearing Witness in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.” In Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, pp. 183-219.

Discussion Questions
  1. How does Valdiserri explain the development of a “group perspective” about disease, and how is this different than an individual response? What groups does he specifically note as having a group perspective? Using materials from previous classes, explain how this perspective might have helped to shape specific responses to AIDS or infectious diseases.
  2. What are the implications of Valdiserri’s arguments? What are his implied recommendations for improving support and services for AIDS patients? Do you think his ideas could be applied to other diseases? Why or why not?
  3. Using your own knowledge or material from previous classes, discuss the challenges of building a history of AIDS. What differences of opinion or perspective have you seen or heard about AIDS in the United States (either from previous classes or your own experience)? How might these perspectives impact how AIDS history in the US maybe documented or constructed?
  4. What does it mean to say “disease is a metaphor”? How does Brandt defend this idea? Do you think his argument is applicable in the case of AIDS? Why or why not?
  5. Brandt’s article was written in 1988. How do you think AIDS has been remembered by historians? Is there a single history or are there multiple perspectives? Explain why for either case.
  6. In your opinion, is there anything that is “just a disease”? Why or why not? Describe the bases for your perspective.
  7. Explain the importance of naming in the role of remembering and recording history. How is the act of naming important to the AIDS Memorial Quilt? What other examples in the history of AIDS have you seen where naming has been significant? Was it for the same reasons? Why or why not?
  8. What is the significance of creating this memorial as a quilt? Discuss the cultural and social explanations for why this is an important part of this AIDS memorial. What does this choice communicate about the history and present of AIDS?
  9. Sturken notes that there is “tension” in the symbolism of the quilt as an AIDS memorial. Do you think this is a valid point? Why or why not? Consider using examples from previous classes to support your argument.
  10. What does the AIDS Memorial Quilt communicate about AIDS in America? What messages can you identify, either from panels, the quilt itself, or even how it is displayed? Who do you think is the primary audience for this quilt?