UCL Institute of the Americas


Stephen Colbrook

States of Infection: Public Health Federalism and the U.S. Aids Epidemic


Professor Jonathan Bell and Dr Nick Witham


My project is funded by a Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship.

My PhD examined the interaction between HIV/AIDS and state policymaking in the US between the early 1980s and mid-1990s. Existing accounts of the epidemic privilege the response of the Reagan administration and the direct action advocacy of ACT UP, ignoring how state legislatures became the primary site of AIDS policymaking in the 1980s.

Anchored in case studies of California, Illinois, and Texas, my project rectifies this historiographical oversight by examining the flurry of AIDS-related bills passed by state legislatures in the 1980s. By focusing on these three states and their heterogenous response to AIDS, I move beyond an historical narrative that centers on San Francisco and New York, and reveal the gradual enmeshment of gay activists into the policymaking process. In doing so, I complicate dominant narratives of the 1980s that emphasize conservative ascendancy, neoliberal restructuring, and the declining power of labor. Instead, I argue that this period witnessed the emergence of a vibrant network of gay policymakers, who vigorously contested Reagan’s inadequate response to AIDS.


Sectarianism, the Nonconformist Conscience, and ‘British Pluralism’: The Digital Humanities and the Language of Home Rule, c.1910–1914Twentieth Century British History, 31 (2), 145–169.