Is there such a thing as an unprecedented moment? What is new about the COVD-19 pandemic and what aspects have echoes in the past? What lessons do the histories of past epidemics, even those that occurred centuries ago, have to offer our present? Dr. Cindy Ermus, a history professor at University of Texas-San Antonio, and Dr. Christienna Fryar, a lecturer in Black British history at Goldsmiths University of London, discuss how their own work on the Great Plague of Provence in 1720 and the Jamaican cholera epidemic of the mid-1800s (respectively) informs their understanding of COVID-19’s place in the longer trajectory of history. Both Dr. Ermus and Dr. Fryar talk about how aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, like debates over prioritizing economic or public health, wishful thinking about disease by elites, and resistance to quarantine measures, have precedents in eighteenth century France and nineteenth century Jamaica. They also discuss the history of scapegoating marginalized and minority populations during epidemic outbreaks. As historians Dr. Ermus and Dr. Fryar also discuss the challenges COVID-19 and the mitigation efforts meant to combat it present for historical researchers. For further reading: The Measure of Empire: Crisis and Responsibility in Postemancipation Jamaica “The danger of prioritizing politics and economics during the coronavirus outbreak”
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