Pandemic, Creating a Usable Past: Epidemic History, COVID-19, and the Future of Health

Pandemic, Creating a Usable Past: Epidemic History, COVID-19, and the Future of Health

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Further reading and resources

In the face of COVID-19, historians of public health, nursing, and medicine come together to reflect on past epidemics and their implications for how we confront today’s unfolding crisis.

Those who study epidemics and pandemics in the past see powerful echoes in the present crisis. In the past as today, families and societies grappled with the sudden tragic loss of life. They debated the social and economic fallout from the epidemic. They struggled with tensions over the halting of commerce, the imposition of quarantines, and social distancing measures. They fought over the impact of public health measures on personal freedom and civil liberties. They tried to make sense of the different impact of disease across regions and populations, well-off and poor. They sought cures and prevention measures, even as dubious theories and fraudulent practices sprung up.  They argued over what forms of knowledge or faith would guide them through the calamity. They called for reinventing public health during the crisis, and for rethinking social priorities once the epidemic subsided. And, even as the toll of death widened, they planned for the uncertain future.

With history as our guide, this forum of epidemic experts explores how people and societies in former eras responded to pandemic challenges. What perspective does their experience offer for the present? What guidance does the past provide for the future of public health, health care, and public policy?

Sponsored by the American Association for the History of Medicine with support from Princeton University, Department of History