Perspectives on the COVID-19 Pandemic – Consortium for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine

This series of discussions by scholars in the humanities and social sciences raises questions and explores perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Kathryn Olivarius recounts how epidemics have exacerbated social and economic inequalities. Recorded May 4, 2020
  • Natalia Molina discusses the intersection of race and public health during the COVID-19 and other pandemics. Recorded May 1, 2020
  • Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis provides us with an introduction to the history and evolution of infections disease. Recorded April 14, 2020.
  • Elena Conis reflects on the experience of being a historian of medicine during the COVID-19 epidemic, and interdisciplinary efforts to respond to the outbreak. Recorded April 14, 2020.
  • Nancy Tomes examines how we use history, especially of the polio epidemics, when we discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Recorded April 13, 2020.
  • Dora Vargha talks about the role of international institutions during a pandemic. Recorded March 26, 2020.
Kathryn Olivarius
Stanford UniversityKathryn Olivarius is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Stanford University, focusing on the history of nineteenth-century America, primarily the antebellum South, Greater Caribbean, slavery, and disease. Her research seeks to understand how epidemic yellow fever disrupted Deep Southern society. By fusing health with capitalism in her forthcoming book Immunocapital, she presents a new model—beyond the toxic fusion of white supremacy with the flows of global capitalism—for how power operated in Atlantic society.Kathryn recounts how epidemics have exacerbated social inequalities in healthcare. Recorded May 4, 2020.
Natalia Molina
University of Southern CaliforniaNatalia Molina is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, History, Latinx Studies, Immigration, Gender, Urban Studies, and Public Health. Her first book, Fit to be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939, explores the ways in which race is constructed relationally and regionally. In that work, she argues that race must be understood comparatively in order to see how the laws, practices, and attitudes directed at one racial group affected others. Fit to Be Citizens? demonstrates how both science and public health shaped the meaning of race in the early twentieth century. Her second book, How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts, examines Mexican immigration–from 1924 when immigration acts drastically reduced immigration to the U.S. to 1965 when many quotas were abolished–to understand how broad themes of race and citizenship are constructed. These years shaped the emergence of what she describes as an immigration regime that defined the racial categories that continue to influence perceptions in the U.S. about Mexican Americans, race, and ethnicity.Natalia discusses the intersection of race and public health during the COVID-19 and other pandemics. Recorded May 1, 2020
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis
University of FloridaBetty Smocovitis is Professor of History of Science in the Departments of Biology and History. She studies the history, philosophy and social study of the twentieth century biological sciences, especially evolutionary biology, systematics, ecology and genetics. She also studies the history of the botanical sciences in America. Her publications include Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology (Princeton University Press, 1996); with Daniel J. Crawford, editors, The Scientific Papers of G. Ledyard Stebbins, Jr. (1929-1930) (A. R. G. Gantner Verlag, 2004); and with Victoria Hollowell and Eileen Duggan, editors, The Ladyslipper and I by G. Ledyard Stebbins. (Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 2007).Betty provides us with an introduction to the history and evolution of infections disease. Recorded April 14, 2020.
Elena Conis
University of California, BerkeleyElena Conis is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at UC, Berkeley, and is a historian of medicine, public health, and the environment. Her publications include Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization (University of Chicago Press, 2014).Elena reflects on how we use history, especially of the polio epidemics, when we discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Recorded April 14, 2020.
Nancy Tomes
Stony Brook UniversityNancy Tomes is Distinguished Professor of History at Stony Brook University, specializing in the social and cultural history of medicine and gender. Her publications include: A Generous Confidence: Thomas Story Kirkbride and the Art of Asylum Keeping (Cambridge, 1984; paperback, Penn, 1994),  Madness in America: Cultural and Medical Perceptions of Mental Illness Before 1914, with Lynn Gamwell (Cornell, 1995), The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life (Harvard, 1998), and Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers (UNC, 2016).Nancy examines on the experience of being a historian of medicine during the COVID-19 epidemic, and interdisciplinary efforts to respond to the outbreak. Recorded April 13, 2020.
Dora Vargha
University of ExeterDora Vargha is Senior Lecturer in Medical Humanities. She is the author of Polio across the Iron Curtain: Hungary’s Cold War with an Epidemic (Cambridge University Press, 2018).In this excerpt from the discussion of her book, Dora talks about the role of international institutions during a pandemic. Recorded March 26, 2020.

Posted: May 11, 2020