Virtual Issues

Virtual Issues draw on the vast archives of American Anthropologist to showcase articles that are relevant to contemporary social or political problems. This issue on disease and pandemics was prompted by the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthropologists are well-positioned to critically examine the biological, cultural, historical, and structural issues that shape the trajectories of disease, from who is at risk of infection to how individuals, communities, and institutions respond. The articles in this issue examine a range of topics raised by the current pandemic. Some touch on cultural conceptions of illness, while others study the transmission and spread of disease. Still others bring ethnographic insights from those on the front lines: medical workers combating outbreaks or NGO workers providing aid. Finally, many of the articles underscore the economic, political, and racial inequalities that shape the social and biological lives of disease.

Together, these articles, which are free to access through June 30, highlight conceptual and methodological tools that anthropologists can use to understand disease and pandemics—in the past, present, and future.


Lamb, D. S. 1893. “The Deadly Microbe and Its Destruction.”

Crosby, Alfred W., Jr. 1969. “The Early History of Syphilis: A Reappraisal.”

Foster, George M. 1976. “Disease Etiologies in Non-Western Medical Systems.”

Weller, Susan. 1984. “Cross-Cultural Concepts of Illness: Variation and Validation.”

Coimbra, Carlos E. A., Jr. 1988. “Human Settlements, Demographic Pattern, and Epidemiology in Lowland Amazonia: The Case of Chagas’s Disease.”

McGrath, Janet W. 1988. “Multiple Stable States of Disease Occurrence: A Note on the Implications for the Anthropological Study of Human Disease.”

Thornton, Russell, Tim Miller, and Jonathan Warren. 1991. “American Indian Population Recovery following Smallpox Epidemics.”

Kelly, Kevin M. 1999. “Malaria and Immunoglobulins in Pacific Prehistory.”

Chavez, Leo R., Juliet M. McMullin, Shiraz I. Mishra, and F. Allan Hubbell. 2001. “Beliefs Matter: Cultural Beliefs and the Use of Cervical Cancer‐Screening Tests.”

McElhinny, Bonnie. 2005. “‘Kissing a Baby Is Not at All Good for Him’: Infant Mortality, Medicine, and Colonial Modernity in the U.S.‐Occupied Philippines.”

Zhan, Mei. 2005. “Civet Cats, Fried Grasshoppers, and David Beckham’s Pajamas: Unruly Bodies after SARS.”

Robins, Steven. 2006. “From ‘Rights’ to ‘Ritual’: AIDS Activism in South Africa.”

Hannig, Anita. 2015. “Sick Healers: Chronic Affliction and the Authority of Experience at an Ethiopian Hospital.”

Behr Brada, Betsey. 2016. “The Contingency of Humanitarianism: Moral Authority in an African HIV Clinic.”

Closser, Svea, and Erin P. Finley. 2016. “A New Reflexivity: Why Anthropology Matters in Contemporary Health Research and Practice, and How to Make It Matter More.”

Gomez-Temesio, Veronica. 2018. “Outliving Death: Ebola, Zombies, and the Politics of Saving Lives.”

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