Blog: Sophie Harman’s COVID-19 Global Health reading list

By Sophie Harman

Sophie is Professor of International Politics and a BAFTA-nominated film producer. She is interested in visual method and the politics of seeing, global health politics, African agency, and the politics of conspicuously invisible women. Her research has reflected these interests through projects on Global Health Governance, the World Bank and HIV/AIDS, partnerships in health in Africa, the 2014/15 Ebola response, the governance of HIV/AIDS, and her recent film project, Pili. These interests have informed her teaching on the modules Global Health Politics, Africa and International Relations, and Global Governance.

‘In time of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go to the literature. Information was control’ (Didion, 2005: 44).

As COVID19 spreads across the world and into our every aspect of our lives, I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote from Joan Didion. As someone who has conducted research and taught on global health politics for 15 years, I feel some control derived from knowing what to expect from a global health emergency and pandemic: the rapid shift from social distancing to lockdown to inevitable enforcement is not surprising and expected, it is also totally alien, discombobulating, and scary. I decided one helpful thing I could do would be to share my module reading list. This is for three reasons. First, if like Didion, you make sense in times of trouble through reading, I’m sharing this to both help you and better inform the public about pandemics as a means to gain some sense of knowledge and control. Second, there are aspects of International Relations who have just discovered (and in so doing announced this discovery) pandemics and that global health may have an impact on global peace and security: welcome friends, you have some catching up to do. Third, you may be looking for resources to teach your students or want to develop your own module on Global Politics of Health and Disease – please feel free to use this as your guide (and if you have the time to let me know, please do so, as will help my justification to share it!).

This reading list is drawn from over ten years teaching the Global Politics of Health and Disease. The module itself is divided into themes – e.g. global health governance, global health security, right to health – in the lectures, with students then focusing on specific health issues of topics e.g. Zika, HIV/AIDS, Pandemic Flu – in the seminars. I therefore encourage you to cross-read the sections e.g. if interested in pandemic flu, read across the flu, governance, international law, and global health security sections. I have also kept in the background reading I recommend to students and the essay questions to give you a sense of the topics and issues we explore across the module. Please also note that this is a Politics and International Relations module, so no epidemiology, mathematical modelling, or public health practices to be found here!

Global Health Politics is a flourishing field of research and there will definitely be excellent papers I have overlooked. This is not a deliberate snub, I also last updated the module in December 2018. The list misses work on Ebola and the DRC and any COVID19 work. Global Health is also subject to academic research and publication inequality, I have tried to address this as much as possible, but there is still more work to do.

Finally, if you’re looking for the must-reads on pandemic flu, a great place to start would be Sara E. Davies Containing Contagion, Christian Enemark Biosecurity Dilemmas, and Simon Rushton Security and Public Health. There are loads more excellent books (see Pandemic Flu section), these are just the three I grabbed off my shelf before heading to isolation.

To download the reading list in PDF form, go to: