The goal of the project is to amplify expert voices and spread awareness of every aspect of the pandemic—creating a rich
historical archive of use to anyone who wishes to learn deeply from this preventable disaster.
COVIDCalls engages historians and other humanities/social science researchers, alongside natural and physical scientists, public health experts, journalists, and artists to translate what are often esoteric research findings into understandable, useful lessons for a broad audience. In this public history mode, COVIDCalls seeks to provide viewers and listeners with information, and inspire greater curiosity into the structural issues made apparent by the pandemic, and disasters more generally.
COVIDCalls is a live discussion hosted by disaster historian Scott Gabriel Knowles (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). On the day COVIDCalls started, March 16, 2020, according to the JHU Coronavirus Resource Center there were globally 181,328 cases and 7,180 deaths from COVID-19. There were 88 deaths in the USA. By the time of the 100th episode on August 7, 160,702 people in the United States had died of COVID-19. The remarkable speed with which this disaster has unfolded demands rapid response from researchers, combined with thoughtful reflection, and a strategy to communicate humanities/social science research. COVIDCalls works in these domains.
One of the challenges we have is simply in the way that the public discussion of disasters is constructed in the media. Death counts are too simplistic. Complicated policy discussions become partisan shout-fests. History is absent, and expert voices are crammed into sound bites. Disasters are too frequently described as external events–they happen to us, the temporality is linear and brief, we recover from them—with very brief background and limited exploration of deeper social structures and disaster impacts. It is much more the case—and we are seeing this with COVID-19—that a disaster is the result of a great number of interconnected processes. Disasters don’t come to us from the outside, but they reveal the society we have. We don’t recover back to some previous whole, the disaster becomes part of us, woven into the fabric of our lives in our memories, our psychology, our laws, and our science.
Disaster researchers and other guests on COVIDCalls bring out of obscurity the historical links among decisions made to protect some, and not others—to privilege some health and not that of others across history. Disaster researchers in this public venue also suggest ways to keep those linkages right in front of us, and even suggest tools of analysis, care, and policy to keep the truth of disaster inequality right in front of us, through the present and the future of this pandemic, and beyond. In doing so COVIDCalls is also forming a historical record of the pandemic—transcripts now run to millions
of words, all available in this archive.
Please explore the site, watch the discussions and read the transcripts, teach with it, build on it, and share what you learn.
What IS COVIDCalls?
Please spread the word about #covidcalls, and send questions to host Scott Gabriel Knowles
Scott Gabriel Knowles
Professor in the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy at KAIST, and an expert on disasters
is a historian of epidemic disease and public health, an Associate Professor at the College of Charleston, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He is the author of the 2020 book The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England (University of Rochester Press), and the Associate Editor of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences.
is completing a Master of Design at the University of California, Berkeley. She is interested in accessibility, sustainability, and fostering equity within design and engineering. She manages the transcription of COVIDCalls, and assists with the roll-out of the COVIDCalls archive and website.
is an undergraduate student at Drexel University studying Finance and Economics. Her COVID-Calls journey began in July 2020 assisting Dr. Knowles as STAR Scholar, and has since been helping with guest outreach and invitations.
is a master’s student at the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy, in Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. She is interested in the materiality of plastic waste, and different practices to regulate or promote the use of plastic from the perspective of slow disaster. She wants to expand her area of research into revealing unequal relationships around waste, and its impacts on different beings, humans and non-humans.
N. Bucky Stanton
is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His dissertation investigates natural and cultural resource extraction in the central Peloponnese of Greece, exploring the history and politics of archaeology, energy and modernity in contemporary Greece and beyond. He is also social media manager and Early Career Representative for the Society for the History of Technology and produces the daily podcast COVIDCalls. Contact him about COVIDCalls episode ideas and other topics at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To find his C.V. and links to written work, check out his website http://denizens.blog/ (under construction).
Nicole Lee Schroeder
Ph.D., is a historian of disability, medicine, and early American welfare systems. She joined the transcription team at COVIDCalls for the 2021 summer and had the privilege of listening in depth to numerous scholars, activists, and students as they conveyed their experiences and expertise regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
is an urban planner, writer, and researcher in Brooklyn, New York. His writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, the London School of Economics Book Review, the Gotham Center blog, and Hunter College’s Urban Review, where he served on the editorial board. He currently works as the technical producer for Common Field.
(she/her) studies Anthropology; Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies; and Public Health at Tufts University. She is broadly interested in how power operates with specific attention to imperializing narratives of disease and contagion.
is a writer and research assistant living in New York