Kent State Student Studies Historical Epidemiology: Melissa Mirka and the Black Death

When Melissa Mirka signed up for the annual Global Health Immersion Program in Geneva, Switzerland, she saw an opportunity to learn about more than modern-day global health issues. This trip offered her a platform upon which she built a personalized research agenda. By extending her stay in Europe, and expanding her destination list to include the cities of Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Venice, Melissa turned a program that provided dozens of students an in-depth introduction to global health into an opportunity to develop a sophisticated understanding of one of the most culturally significant global health events in human history: The Black Death. 

For four weeks, Melissa travelled throughout Italy, documenting the lingering artistic, architectural, linguistic, and literary remains of a pandemic that, in many ways, forced governments throughout Europe to recognize for the first time that individual health is inexorably tied to the health of entire communities. By examining changes in art, architecture, and other forms of cultural expression, Melissa documented the ways in which public health problems have implications that extend far beyond health and medicine. 

Dr. Hallam coordinated her research, which included individual investigation, a comparative health systems course, and a final report. Prior to her journey, Melissa also met with Dr. Woolverton, and discussed the possibility of developing a course based upon her individual research. This proposed Florence-based program would offer students the opportunity to explore the impact of major historical pandemics.

“Overall, it was a great experience!” Melissa said, “I think that something like this would open up the Florence abroad program to public health students.  I think that these classes are a good start for a study abroad program for public health students.”

Melissa continues to actively engage in research within the College of Public Health. For additional information on her research, contact Dr. Hallam at To learn more about the Geneva program, and other opportunities to study public health issues abroad, contact Ken Slenkovich at

If you are looking to get your Master of Public Health (MPH) in Clinical Epidemiology be sure to reach out to us if you have any questions about the program.

POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2015 - 3:34pm
UPDATED: Thursday, February 20, 2020 - 1:54pm