Over the past half-century, historians have used episodes of epidemic disease to investigate scientific, social, and cultural change. Underlying this approach is the recognition that disease, and especially responses to epidemics, offers fundamental insights into scientific and medical practices, as well as social and cultural values. As historian Charles Rosenberg wrote, “disease necessarily reflects and lays bare every aspect of the culture in which it occurs.”1
Many historians would consider it premature to write the history of the HIV epidemic. After all, more than 34 million people are currently infected with HIV. Even today, with long-standing public health campaigns and highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), HIV remains a major contributor to the burden of disease in many countries. As Piot and Quinn indicate in this issue of the Journal (pages 2210–2218), combating the epidemic remains a test of our expanding knowledge and vigilance.