Skip to main content

Special Topics (390-0-23)


Viruses and Viral Media


Steven William Thrasher

Meeting Info

Fisk Hall 311: Mon, Wed 10:00AM - 11:20AM

Overview of class

What are viruses? Are they living or dead? How does news media affect their influence on the world? And why do we say news "goes viral?" Designed for Medill and non-Medill students alike, Viruses and Viral Media will study how viruses intersect with race, sexuality, disability, economics and the news media. Historically and contemporarily, the course will look at how actual viruses and infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Hepatitis C, influenza and SARS-CoV-2) have been covered in the global press. We will consider how certain groups of humans have been depicted as viruses themselves, such as how Jewish/disabled/queer/Roma people were described by the German and US press circa WW II; how African Americans were described in the US press circa Jim Crow; and how Muslim, Mexican and migrant people are described in press and social media now. We will also consider how and why popular news "goes viral." Students will work in research groups to study viruses and virality in the news throughout the term.

Class Materials (Required)

Let the Record Show (Schulman, $18), The Viral Underclass (Thrasher, $20), Under the Skin (Villarosa, $20). (Total: $60) Students will have a choice of one additional book TBD to use for their final project. All other readings (of writers such as Ed Yong, Katherine Wu, E. Tammy Kim, Zachary Siegel, Michel Foucault and Sam T. Levin) will be provided.

Class Attributes

Attendance at 1st class mandatory

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Reserved for Medill Sophomores, Juniors & Seniors