London 1854: Cholera

London 1854: Cesspits, Cholera and Conflict over the Broad Street Pump

Game Authors: Marshall L. Hayes & Eric B. Nelson (Cornell University)

Cesspits, Cholera and Conflict takes place on the evening of September 7, 1854 at Vestry Hall in Soho, Greater London.  The event is a meeting of a special emergency response committee of the local Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish, who have convened to respond to the deadly outbreak of cholera that has claimed the lives of more than 500 parish residents over the preceding eight days.  Historically, the outcome of this meeting was the decision to remove the pump handle from a contaminated neighborhood pump on Broad Street.  This decision and the events leading up to it are considered a defining moment in the development of modern approaches to public health.

This game immerses students in the scientific debates and methodologies that led to the founding of the modern fields of microbiology and epidemiology in the midtolate 1800’s.  Student role players address three central questions:  What is the source of this disease outbreak?  How is cholera communicated from person to person?  And, what steps should be taken to contain the outbreak?  Particular emphasis is placed on the dichotomy and tension between believers of miasma theory (the prevailing idea at the time that disease was caused by miasma or unhealthy odors) and advocates of germ theory (that later attributed a specific disease to being caused by a specific organism).  Central characters in this debate included Dr. John Snow (resident physician in St. James Parish and believer that cholera was a contagious and waterborne disease) and Rev. Henry Whitehead (curate of the local Church of St. Luke’s and a staunch supporter of miasma theory).  With slight modifications, this game can also be used to achieve secondary scientific objectives highlighting the role of sanitation in modern societies and the eventual implementation of municipal wastewater-treatment systems in urban planning.

The game is appropriate for biology, microbiology, general science, engineering and history of science courses and can be implemented for non-majors and science majors at all levels depending on the depth of treatment.  It is designed for a class size of approximately 16 students.  However, larger student numbers can be accommodated using an expanded list of characters.

The secure version of the student game book and the Instructor's materials, including roles, are  password protected. Contact Marshall Hayes mlh66 at cornell.edu for password. 

The unencrypted version of the student manual omits the handouts for students but provides a complete description of the game for students. handouts are copyrighted and cannot be posted on the open web.

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David Henderson,
Jan 8, 2013, 1:13 PM
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David Henderson,
Sep 29, 2013, 2:58 PM
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Tony Crider,
Aug 28, 2014, 12:57 PM
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David Henderson,
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David Henderson,
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