As COVID-19 forces communities to isolate themselves, creating economic and political anxiety, the humanities can provide a sense of connectedness and historical memory.
Against a backdrop of disquiet, isolation, and confusion, humanities scholars at Princeton are offering their thoughts on the crisis, illuminating the values at stake in current debates. In op-eds, news commentaries, petitions, and digital projects, Princeton faculty are helping us to make sense of a shifting global landscape and to imagine how it might look when we emerge on the other side.
The Humanities Council strives to build connections and create conversation in these uncertain times. If you have read or written something you would like to share, please forward news and articles to Min Pullan for inclusion.
Below is a sample of faculty responses to COVID-19 from across disciplines.
- D. Graham Burnett: A Roundtable on COVID-19 and The Attention Economy (Essay in Los Angeles Review of Books)
- V. Mitch McEwen: COVID-19 and White Supremacy are Dual Pandemics (Surface)
- Thalia Gigerenzer: A Virus Podcast Goes Viral (“This Week in Virology”‘ podcast)
- Eddie S. Glaude Jr: The Racial Lines of Covid-19 (Episcopal News Service Webinar)
- Elizabeth Margulis: COVID-19 strikes discordant note for music industry, but artists find a way to persevere (Quoted in NBC News)
- Peter Singer: Vaccine Race: 12-18 month forecast ‘still best guess’ (Quoted in RTÉ News)
- Pandemic, Creating a Usable Past: Epidemic History, COVID-19, and the Future of Health (Keith Wailoo and the Department of History host a a two-day forum with American Association for the History of Medicine)
- Harold James: Coronavirus is telling us to be a citizen of our country – and our world (Quoted in the South China Morning Post)
- Two full-time jobs: Princeton’s parent-professors adjust to a new normal (Faculty parents featured in The Daily Princetonian)
- Ingrid Norton: Plague Memory (Essay in The Point)
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: The Black Plague (“The Coronavirus Crisis” column in The New Yorker)
- Robert P. George: Harvard Professor’s “Absurd” Claim that Homeschooling Is Child Abuse (Quoted in Education Next)
- Ruha Benjamin: Black Skin, White Masks: Racism, Vulnerability & Refuting Black Pathology (a work in progress talk)
- Beth Lew-Williams: How the coronavirus is surfacing America’s deep-seated anti-Asian biases (Quoted in Vox)
- Paul Lewis and Guy Nordenson: Princeton SOA “Manual of Urban Distance” awarded COVID-19 research funding (Article in Archinect outlining their plans and inspirations)
- Robert P. George: Curbing Religious Freedom? Ignoring Deaths Caused by Unemployment? Answering the Trickiest Pandemic Questions (Quoted in CBN News)
- Laurence Ralph: Policing and COVID-19 (Conversation with Danielle Allen, hosted by the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics)
- Robert P. George: ‘Demonic Deal’: Pornography Industry Targets the Isolated in Coronavirus Pandemic (Quoted in National Catholic Register)
- Peter Singer: Restarting America Means People Will Die. So When Do We Do It? (Five thinkers talk to the The New York Time Magazine)
- Keith Whittington: Trump v the states: how the president is remaking the government in his image (Quoted in The Guardian, UK)
- Jan-Werner Müller: Beware Viral Enabling Acts (Op-ed in Project Syndicate)
- Stephen Kotkin: Princeton historian: America can beat coronavirus if we don’t ‘defeat ourselves’ (Op-ed in Fox News)
- Eddie S. Glaude Jr: The pandemic will pass. Our grief will endure (Op-ed in The Washington Post)
- Kevin M. Kruse: After The Coronavirus Passes, Your World Will Not Go Back To Normal (Quoted in Buzzfeed News)
- Merle Eisenberg (History; National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center): Pre-Modern Pandemics in History, Science, and Popular Media (The Late Antique, Medieval, and Byzantine Workshop offers a way for historians to contribute to the discussion of pandemics by using scientific approaches to make historical arguments.)
- Nolan McCarty: The world might – might! – become a better place because of COVID-19 (Referenced in the Miami Herald)
- Bernard Haykel: Will the coronavirus kill the oil industry and help save the climate? (Quoted in The Guardian, UK)
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders (Op-ed in The New Yorker)
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: The Coronavirus Crisis is Disaster Capitalism In Action (Naomi Klein, Astra Taylor and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor offer strategies for resistance and collective action in a time of social distancing)
- Covid-19 in Brazil Today: Reckoning with the Pandemic in the Global South (A conversation hosted by Princeton Brazil LAB)
- Ruha Benjamin: ‘Zoombombing’ Attacks Disrupt Classes (Quoted in Inside Higher Ed)
- Meg Jacobs: Covid-19 may destroy Donald Trump’s presidency (Made by History in The Washington Post)
- Jan-Werner Müller: Why do rightwing populist leaders oppose experts? (Op-ed in The Guardian, UK)
- Peter Singer: Ethical decisions about who lives and who dies may not be hypothetical (Op-ed in The Age)
- Jacob Shapiro: Coronavirus: Don’t forget about poor kids (Op-ed in New York Daily News)
- Eddie S. Glaude Jr (audio): The primary and the pandemic (Joined by Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer)
- Fintan O’Toole: Coronavirus has ended the era of political risk (Access requires paid subscription)
- Keith Whittington: Can the Government Just Close My Favorite Bar? (Op-ed in Reason.com)
- Keith Whittington: Can You Be a Libertarian in a Pandemic? (Op-ed in Reason.com)
- Eddie S. Glaude Jr (podcast): “Amplify alarm bells blaring” (MSNBC panel discussion)
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (video): “Something Is Wrong in America” (Democracy Now! discussing the Sanders-Biden debate and coronavirus)
- Eddie S. Glaude Jr: On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Glaude urges leaders to put aside partisanship in this time of crisis in a discussion with Mayor de Blasio.
- Jan-Werner Müller: “We Must Help One Another or Die” (Op-ed in The New York Times)
- Vera Candiani (petition): A call for action and transparency: Princeton municipal Covid-19 measures (A call to action for the town of Princeton to close all non-essential businesses while also maintaining health care and pay for the employees affected.)
From the the Humanities Council:
- Historian of science Melissa Reynolds (Humanistic Studies and Society of Fellows) argues that communication failures in a pandemic can be catastrophic. In a Washington Post op-ed she describes what we can learn from the European epidemics of the 15th and 16th centuries.
- Senior Research Scholar Allen Guelzo (Humanities Council) goes back a shorter distance to contemplate, in his own isolation, what families in the 19th century did around parlor tables and recommends a meditation from The Remains of Edmund Grindal (1843), a book about the plague of 1563. Drawing on historical examples, he and Robert P. George (James Madison Program) discuss cases of political leadership in times of national crisis. They argue that history will not necessarily provide a roadmap, but perhaps reflection on historical cases can teach us some lessons in safely navigating the highways when there is no roadmap at hand.
- As part of “American Contact,” a Humanities Council Global Initiative, history professor Rhae Lynn Barnes is offering virtual help to school teachers by coordinating The Show Must Go On, a crowd-sourced collection of American history lesson plans and 5-minute video lectures by scholars.
- Professor of English Jeff Dolven, the 2020-21 director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, offers a poem in Cabinet magazine in a post dedicated to nurses and doctors across the world.
For both literary scholars and creative writers, Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace provides inspiration:
- Ilya Vinitsky, professor of Slavic literature, examines the epidemiological motif in Tolstoy’s depiction of the flu in War and Peace, exploring how the grippe epidemic in Paris in 1804 signaled the breakdown of relations between France and England and the destabilization of Europe in the coming years.
- Yiyun Li, professor of Creative Writing, invites readers to participate in her virtual book club Tolstoy Together. Inspired by the solidity and structure that War and Peace provides in these unsettling times, the novel offers “a moment each day when we can gather together as a community.”