You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers.
Come, listen to me — do what the plague demands:
you’ll find relief and lift your head from the depths.
Oedipus the King, lines 245-48

Professor Bryan Waterman

Office: A3 room 109 (fall semester via Zoom only)
Office hours: M 10:15 – 12; Th 11-12

How do we respond to news that some among us are ill, and that the illness is, perhaps, contagious? Are the healthy ethically obliged to tend to the sick? What are the relationships between contagious disease and verbal communication: rumors, medical information, stories about the dying and the dead? How has illness literally and metaphorically participated in the reimagination of community, kinship, and sexuality in different times and places? This multidisciplinary course examines the intersections of contagious disorder and storytelling in a range of cultures, settings, and forms, from ancient Greece to contemporary South Africa, from the Black Death, influenza, and AIDS to the proliferation of zombies and vampires in global popular culture today.

As a Colloquium in NYUAD’s Core Curriculum, the course explores major global challenges from multidisciplinary perspectives. The most obvious challenge the colloquium addresses is health, but attention to the ways in which language and communication are inseparable from understandings of epidemic disorder and public health will likely reveal ways in which the issues discussed here also affect how we approach challenges such as justice, equality, peace, and a rich understanding of humanity.


Engaged students will

  • develop critical reading, thinking, writing, and discussion skills that are fundamental to college learning;
  • hone the ability to read for argument in a range of disciplines and fields;
  • learn to perform cultural and formal analysis through the close reading of a variety of literary and narrative genres;
  • cultivate an understanding of the relationship between text and context, language and historical knowledge;
  • become familiar with various approaches to the relationship between information dissemination and contagious disorder;
  • consider broad moral questions raised by literatures from diverse ancient and modern cultures.

These outcomes will be assessed through a number of short and longer writing assignments, class discussion, in-class writing, and participation in online community.


In fall 2012, this seminar included eleven members who came from nine countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Germany, Hungary, Kenya, Lebanon, South Korea, the UK, and the US.

In spring 2014, this seminar included twelve members who came from twelve countries: Canada, Colombia, Egypt, India, Korea, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and the US.

In fall 2014, this seminar included fourteen members who came from twelve countries: Australia, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Hungary, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, South Korea, the UK, and the US.

In spring 2015, this seminar included twelve members who came from ten countries: China, Egypt, India, Korea, Macedonia, Nepal, Syria, Trinidad and Tobego, the UAE, and the US.

In fall 2016, this seminar included fifteen members who came from nine countries: Argentina, Chile, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines, Taiwan, the UAE, and the US.

In spring 2019, this seminar included fifteen students who came from eleven countries: Canada, China, Czech Republic, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the UAE, and Vietnam.

In fall 2019, this seminar included sixteen students who came from twelve countries: Chechen Republic, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Slovakia, South Korea, Taiwan, the UAE, the UK, and the US.

Banner: from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death (1562), oil on panel, 117 cm × 162 cm (46 in × 63.8 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid.