The Story of Pandemics in Scholarship and Popular Culture, 1890-2020
Merle Eisenberg, National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis; Lee Mordechai, Hebrew University
May 14, 2020 · 1:30 pm-3:00 pm · via Zoom
Program in Medieval Studies; Climate Change and History Research Initiative; Humanities Council
Seminar series of the Program in Medieval Studies and the Climate Change and History Research Initiative, supported by Humanities Council.
Introduction by John Haldon, Shelby Cullom Davis ’30 Professor of European History, Emeritus.
The talk discusses developments in research on pandemics from 1890 to the present, using the Justinianic Plague (c. 541-750 CE) as a lens. We trace how scientists constructed the plague concept, the idea of what plague should do, in the first half of the 20th century by building a series of seemingly unrelated outbreaks in late antiquity into the “Justinianic Plague.”
The plague concept transformed historical plague into an independent agent that can explain major historical events such as the “the fall of the Roman Empire.” Historians entered the discussion only in the last third of the 20th century and have since largely taken the plague concept for granted. We reveal how and why the plague concept was created. The talk focuses particularly on research developments since the 1990s, including emerging infectious diseases and bioterrorism, to demonstrate the feedback loop between academia, the security community, Hollywood, and the media, that has shaped the way we perceive pandemics in the past and fear them in the future.
For registration and Zoom ID, go to: https://princeton.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYlfu2tpjssE9zJ_Zmd-p2rKQHVpUhTX6M