History, Ethics, and Law

How do the historical relationships between science, industry, and government impact contemporary policy? How have social, political, and ideological forces influenced the resolution of ethical and legal concerns in the public health sphere? 

Experts in public health history, ethics, and law offer a necessary perspective that complements and informs research, policy, and planning. The History, Ethics, and Law Certificate will provide MPH students from different disciplines with a historical framework for thinking about central issues in contemporary public health policy. It will also provide them with an understanding of the ways in which the social, cultural, and political context shapes ethical and legal challenges in public health and our options for resolving them.

Individuals with this unique background would be prepared to engage in ethical and policy analysis in governmental and nongovernmental organizations. They would be prepared to be called on by think tanks, policy and advocacy groups, foundations, and international organizations to serve on ethics committees and governing bodies.

Admissions Eligibility

History, Ethics, and Law is open to Columbia MPH students in:

Note that given the required classes, the program may be most compatible for students enrolled in Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology, Population and Family Health, or Sociomedical Sciences.

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

A Social History of American Public Health

How does the health status of Americans reflect and shape our history? How do ideas about health reflect broader attitudes and values in American history and culture? How does the American experience with pain, disability and disease affect our actions and lives? What are the responsibilities of the state and of the individual in preserving health and how have they changed over time? How have American institutions—from hospitals to unions to insurance companies—been shaped by changing longevity, experience with disability and death? These questions are central to this class. The course will look at the ways social values are shaped by, and help shape, definitions of disease, ideas about prevention, and social responsibility for care for those made dependent by illness.

The purpose of this course is to provide students with a historical understanding of the role public health has played in American history. The underlying assumptions are that disease, and the ways we define disease, are simultaneously reflections of social and cultural values, as well as important factors in shaping those values. Also, it is maintained that the environments we build determine the ways we live and die. The infectious and acute diseases in the nineteenth century, the chronic, degenerative conditions of the twentieth and the new, vaguely understood conditions rooted in a changing chemical and human-made environment are emblematic of the societies we created. As topics indicate, the course will emphasize that public health is intimately related to broader social, political, as well as scientific, changes overtaking the country and will incorporate a very broad range of subjects from changes in urban living and culture, through the transformation of the industrial work place.

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