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Microbes Rule the World: Effects of Disease on History is a Course

Microbes Rule the World: Effects of Disease on History

Ended Dec 14, 2014

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Full course description

Starts September 8, 2014

While biologists have long understood the power of disease to shape events in world history, the depth of that power has rarely emerged in history books. This course seeks to redress that imbalance through historical anecdote and scientific explanation as it investigates the ways in which diseases have affected dramatically the course of history across several topics, including religion, war, and migration. Participants will experience video lectures and vignettes with accompanying essays and learning exercises that will introduce them to the startling influence of microbes in the course of human events. Sharing good humor and a combined seven decades of teaching and friendship, the two professors from the fields of microbiology and history have designed tiered learning materials that allow students to venture as deeply as they desire into the links between disease and history. Participants may also choose which topics interest them the most and devote their energies accordingly.

Topics covered include:

  • Week One: Effects of Disease on Religion
  • Week Two: Effects of Disease on Conquest and Exploration
  • Week Three: Effects of Disease on Migration and Movement of Populations
  • Week Four: Effects of Disease on War
  • Week Five: Effects of Disease on Politics


There are no essential prerequisite skills required in this course. However, any knowledge about world history (e.g., U.S., Europe, etc.) and basic knowledge of microbiology would be useful.

Textbook and Material

There is no textbook required in this course. You are not required to pay for course materials.

Technology Requirements

You can access the course content via a computer, laptop, and/or mobile devices (e.g., iPad, iPhone, Android phones and tablets, etc.). For mobile devices, go to the apps store (Apple or Android) to download Canvas apps.

Course Expectations

This course is self-paced and takes five weeks (one week per topic/module). To be successful, you should plan about 3-5 hours a week to interact with the course content, which includes watching the video vignettes, participating in discussions, learning important terms via crossword puzzles and Quizlets, and completing self-assessed quizzes. Further instruction is provided within each unit.


All five quizzes are self-assessed and correspond to the five units/modules. You can take these quizzes multiple times as you need. The quizzes are to assess general understanding of the video vignettes. There are no due dates quizzes. However, make sure to complete them before the course end date.


The instructors will not grade any quizzes or discussions.

Gene A. Sessions

Gene A. Sessions


Gene was born in Ogden, Utah, and received his Ph.D. degree from Florida State University in 1974. He is the author and editor of numerous works, including Mormon Thunder: A Documentary History of Jedediah Morgan Grant (1982, 2008), Latter-day Patriots: Nine Mormon Families and Their Revolutionary War Heritage (1975), Prophesying upon the Bones: J. Reuben Clark and the Foreign Debt Crisis, 1933-39 (1992), Camp Floyd and the Mormons: The Utah War (with Donald R. Moorman, 1992), The Search for Harmony: Essays on Science and Mormonism (with Craig J. Oberg, 1993), Utah International: A Biography of a Business (with Sterling D. Sessions, 2002), and Mormon Democrat: The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle (1975, 1998), for which he received the Mormon History Association’s annual award for best edited work. Professor Sessions is Presidential Distinguished Professor of History at Weber State University in Ogden. He has also been a consultant on documentaries and committees exploring the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre and is past president of the Mountain Meadows Association. He and his wife Shantal have four children and seven grandsons.

Craig J. Oberg

Craig J. Oberg


TA native of Oregon, Craig J. Oberg graduated from Weber State in 1979 and received his Ph.D. in 1985 from Utah State University. He then joined the Department of Microbiology at Weber State and for 21 years served as department chair. Designated Presidential Distinguished Professor of Microbiology in 2006, Dr. Oberg was the John S. Hinckley Fellow for 1998 and is the recipient at Weber of numerous other awards, including the Alumni Association’s H. Aldous Dixon Award (1996), the George and Beth Lowe Innovative Teaching Award (1999), and the Spencer L. Seager Distinguished Teaching Award (2001). He was also the Cortez Honors Professor of the Year (2000) and the College of Science Endowed Scholar (2004-07). An active researcher, Dr. Oberg has published more than eighty articles, many in prestigious journals both in the United States and Europe, has delivered over a hundred scientific presentations, has received numerous grants, and edited a book reconciling science and religion.

His eclectic interests as a scientist and intellectual have led him to such diverse projects as a book and honors course on fly-fishing (which received a half-page notice in the Sunday New York Times) and a summer in the highly selective Microbial Diversity Course at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Wide-ranging curiosity has brought Dr. Oberg into research and writing projects on a broad spectrum from an essay and photographic display on the microbiology of the thermal features of Yellowstone National Park to a book on cheese functionality, the outcome of a twenty-five-year collaboration with Dr. Don McMahon. In this connection, he has helped develop several patents related to cheese production. In addition to all of this, Dr. Oberg has devoted considerable energy to service both on campus and in the professional community. He has served as president of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters and of the Intermountain Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, and is currently the Faculty Athletic Representative for Weber State University. He is also an active participant in the ASM Intermountain Branch, the American Society of Microbiology, and the American Dairy Science Association. He and his artist wife Lynette have five children, seven grandchildren, and live in Liberty, Utah. Four of their children have graduated from Weber State University. Besides fly-fishing, his hobbies include running marathons, photography, hunting with his bird dog, and playing with the grandkids.