Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

The Histories of HIVs
The Emergence of the Multiple Viruses That Caused the AIDS Epidemics

Edited by William H. Schneider

“The most comprehensive account yet published of HIV’s emergence and dispersal across the African continent, this richly detailed, multidisciplinary collection traces the varied origins of the multiple strains of HIV. This superb book adds new understanding to the ecological, medical, and sexual contexts within which AIDS epidemics first developed.”

Shane Doyle, professor of African history, University of Leeds

The Histories of HIVs sets the tone for how collaborative science can and should tackle the emergent pandemics of our time. In combining epidemiology, virology, history, and anthropology, the contributors demonstrate powerfully how the origin and spread of epidemics can be uncovered: causes must not be isolated to viral fragments moving between simians and humans but should instead encompass the social and cultural history of the people whose lives and illnesses generated this history. Required reading for anyone interested in epidemic disease.”

Catherine E. Bolten, author of Serious Youth in Sierra Leone: An Ethnography of Performance and Global Connection

The Histories of HIVs provides a balanced examination of the emergence of HIV viruses. This impressive volume, which combines historical epidemiology and anthropology with the main achievements of virology and immunology, contributes to our understanding of the ways some HIV viruses provoked epidemics or became pandemic. The Histories of HIVs is a brilliant achievement that is a pleasure to read.”

Kalala Ngalamulume, coeditor of Medicine and Health in Africa: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

"Compared to conclusions based solely on biomedical/molecular analyses, this multidisciplinary approach offers a perspective not readily available through conventional epidemiologic paradigms. Adding another layer to ongoing investigations of the many mysteries surrounding HIV/AIDS, this multiauthored text highlights multiple potential pathways of viral spillover and continued transmission. Schneider … has edited an informative, well-written book that will be of considerable interest to students of epidemiology, infectious diseases, and the history of medicine. Highly recommended.


This new collection of essays on HIV viruses spans disciplines to topple popular narratives about the origins of the AIDS pandemic and the impact of the disease on public health policy.

With a death toll in the tens of millions, the AIDS pandemic was one of the worst medical disasters of the past century. The disease was identified in 1981, at the height of miraculous postwar medical achievements, including effective antibiotics, breakthrough advances in heart surgery and transplantations, and cheap, safe vaccines—smallpox had been eradicated just a few years earlier. Arriving as they did during this era of confidence in modern medicine, the HIV epidemics shook the public’s faith in health science. Despite subsequent success in identifying, testing, and treating AIDS, the emergence of epidemics and outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, and the novel coronaviruses (SARS and COVID-19) are stark reminders that such confidence in modern medicine is not likely to be restored until the emergence of these viruses is better understood.

This collection combines the work of major social science and humanities scholars with that of virologists and epidemiologists to provide a broader understanding of the historical, social, and cultural circumstances that produced the pandemic. The authors argue that the emergence of the HIV viruses and their epidemic spread were not the result of a random mutation but rather broader new influences whose impact depended upon a combination of specific circumstances at different places and times. The viruses emerged and were transmitted according to population movement and urbanization, changes in sexual relations, new medical procedures, and war. In this way, the AIDS pandemic was not a chance natural occurrence, but a human-made disaster.

Essays by: Ernest M. Drucker, Tamara Giles-Vernick, Ch. Didier Gondola, Guillaume Lachenal, Amandine Lauro, Preston A. Marx, Stephanie Rupp, François Simon, Jorge Varanda

William H. Schneider is professor emeritus of history and medical humanities at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. He has authored numerous publications on the history of science and medicine, health philanthropy, and global health history.   More info →


Excerpt: Chapter One


Review in the International Journal of African Historical Studies 54 no. 3 (2021)


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Retail price: $36.95, S.
Release date: January 2022
26 illus. · 280 pages · 6 × 9 in.
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Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: August 2021
26 illus. · 280 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: August 2021
26 illus. · 280 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for The Histories of HIVs

“I particularly admire the authors’ collective ability to distill such a breadth of interdisciplinary, cutting-edge research into language that is accessible to newcomers to the field, including undergraduate students. The methodical approach, the ways authors refer back and forth to each other’s work, and their fair-minded treatment of various claims including those that lack evidentiary support, build steam…. [For the ] many readers who have legitimate worries about the integrity of scientific research and Western health interventions in African history … the way authors acknowledge those concerns and take the time to walk us through critique and countercritiques will be profoundly eye-opening and likely convincing.”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

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