Returning for its third series, the University of Oxford's Futuremakers podcast follows host, Professor Peter Millican, as he talks to researchers from around the world about some of the devastating pandemics humanity has experienced.

Peter and his colleagues look at ten major outbreaks: from the Plague of Athens to the West African Ebola outbreak, via the Black Death, Cholera and Smallpox, and ask how these outbreaks have shaped society, what we may be able to learn from them today, and where we might be heading?  

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Series Preview: The Future after COVID-19

A conversation with Professor Peter Drobac, a global health physician and Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, and Dr Aoife Haney, Research Lecturer in Innovation and Enterprise, about the social, economic and environmental changes that may well be heading our way after our current pandemic. 

Episode One: The Plague of Athens

Join Peter in 5th century Athens, a crowded city in the midst of a siege, where a devastating disease had just erupted. Our guests discuss whether this really was plague, the breakdown in law and order that began to emerge, and how the historian Thucydides survived the disease that hit his city.

Episode Two: The Plague of Justinian

Welcome to the Eastern Roman Empire in the sixth century. This time, Peter discusses a plague that historians and medical experts agree was likely the first plague pandemic humanity experienced. You may not have heard much about the emperor Justinian I, or why he’s got a plague outbreak named after him, but by the end of this episode you’ll hear just how devastating and long-lasting this pandemic was.  

Episode Three: Black Death

Peter arrives in the fourteenth century and meets history's most notorious plague outbreak. The Black Death is a gruesome name well-matched with a grim disease, and as you'll find out, both it's not just the name which has survived to the modern period... 

Episode Four: The Great Plague

In the final plague episode of the series, Peter talks to his guests about the last major outbreak of this horrific disease in seventeenth-century England. Along the way they dispel some myths – for example it wasn’t the Great Fire of London that finally defeated the disease – and he drops in on one of the outbreaks most famous commentators – Samuel Pepys. Stay tuned to the end for a bonus conversation on Shakespeare’s experience during the plague outbreaks which led up to this final Great Plague.  

Episode Five: Smallpox

Welcome to the eighteenth century, at a point when Europe is going through another major smallpox outbreak, a disease that by this point has been plaguing populations around the globe for centuries. Peter will discover why milkmaids may be to central to the story of vaccination, how smallpox features in popular contemporary literature and what Napoleon thought of an English physician called Edward Jenner. 

Episode Six: Cholera 

Peter makes it to the nineteenth century to discuss the achievements of John Snow - a man who either played a central role in the history of epidemiology, or was just one of many trying to tackle that centuries’ foremost threat; cholera. Peter discusses Snow's role, water pump handles, and how we may very well still be experiencing this devastating pandemic today. 

Episode Seven: 'Russian' Flu: the pandemic that wasn't?

In this episode, Peter discusses a controversial outbreak... So-called 'Russian' Flu is either the first influenza pandemic we’ll be discussing, or it wasn’t the flu at all. It was either a disease which emerged from and then devastated the country it was named after, or an outbreak which the Russian people barely noticed at the time. It either deserves its place as the seventh pandemic we’re covering in the series, or it’s the pandemic that never was, an outlier in our historical narrative… 

Episode Eight: The 'Spanish' Flu

Peter arrives in the twentieth century, during the last years of the Great War, to a pandemic which you may have read a lot about during the early coverage of our current COVID outbreak. After the Black Death, the so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu has one of the most famous monikers of any pandemic, but does it deserve such notoriety? 

Episode Nine: HIV/AIDS

In the ninth episode of our History of Pandemics season, Peter leaves the perils of influenza behind, only to discover an entirely new virus: HIV. Many of you may remember the emerging panic that became the media narrative around HIV and the disease it can lead to, AIDS, and in this episode Peter follows the story from the beginning, with medical experts who’ve worked on the front line of this pandemic since the early days.     

Episode Ten: Ebola

Peter begins the final episode of the series in 2014, at the onset of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Whilst that pandemic officially ended in 2016, this virus has caused a brutal outbreak nearly every year since. After his discussion at the start of the series about whether Ebola may have been the disease that caused the Plague of Athens, has Peter arrived back where he started? 

Bonus Episode: Pandemic X

Peter interviews the Oxford scientists working at the forefront of research into Disease X - a pathogen which the World Health Organisation added to their shortlist of blueprint priority diseases in 2018 to represent the hypothetical cause of our next pandemic... 

Meet the team: 
Futuremakers is an award-winning podcast, created in-house at The University of Oxford and presented by Professor Peter Millican, from Hertford College. This series was written and produced by Ben Harwood and Steve Pritchard, and the score for the series was composed and recorded by Richard Watts. Voice actors for the series were Anna Wilson, Ben Morel, Liz McCarthy, Mike MacDonald, Tom Wilkinson, and Shaunna-Marie Latchman. Additional support was provided by Ruth Abrahams.