UCLA » College » Social Sciences » History
Historians' Perspectives on COVID-19

September 2020

July 2020

May 2020

    • Professor Peter Baldwin was featured in an article in the Russian Kommersant, 15 May 2020 “’There Is No Direct Connection between the Political Regime and the Tactics of Combating Epidemics’ Historian Peter Baldwin, about Quarantines, their Use by the State and Public Perception,” https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4344334?from=main_2 

April 2020

    • Peter Baldwin - Featured on two podcasts: the April 25 episode “It Looks Crazy over the Sea Right Now” of the podcast Brooklyn USA examines the varied responses of different countries to the coronavirus pandemic, and can be heard here: https://www.bricartsmedia.org/brooklyn-usa (Professor Baldwin speaks for approximately five minutes about 20 minutes into the podcast). Professor Baldwin also contributed to Trinity College, Dublin’s podcast Behind the Headlines: Democracy in an Age of Pandemic featuring an international panel who discuss the politics and policies of disease prevention and control, how the absence of public life might impact those on the margins of our societies, and what we might learn from plague and democracy in classical Greece. You can listen to the podcast at https://soundcloud.com/tlrhub/behind-the-headlines-democracy-in-an-age-of-pandemic
    • Vinay Lal - Published “Patriots Against the Virus: A global plague, political epidemiology and national histories” an essay in OPEN magazine on April 24, 2020, which looks at the political epidemiology of the coronavirus pivots around national history and the particularities of culture. It is available both in print and online, and can be accessed here: https://openthemagazine.com/essay/patriots-against-the-virus/

      This follows Professor Lal’s earlier article, “The Passion and Unrequited Love of Covid-19: You shall dwell alone...” in the same magazine on March 27, 2020. This essay examines  the trajectory and economic, sociocultural and political implications of the coronavirus pandemic: https://openthemagazine.com/cover-story/the-passion-and-unrequited-love-of-covid-19/

    • Maxim P. Harrell - "Resisting the Historical Push to Forget:"  

      Over this past Easter weekend, Andrea Bocelli performed his ‘Music for Hope’ concert to an empty Duomo di Milano, one of Italy’s most well-known tourist sites. With over 3.4 million viewers on YouTube live, he certainly did not lack viewers, even though the Duomo di Milano itself was deserted. People watched seeking a message of human resilience in the face of shared adversity the likes of which we have never seen before. Yet there was something simultaneously moving, troubling, and perhaps, above all, emotionally affecting as the camera panned to an audience that was not there or as drone shots covered the empty streets of a formerly bustling city. Similar scenes could be shown of American cities. In the country’s epicenter in New York, advertising continues to play across a desolate Times Square’s hundreds of screens. Our urban landscapes seem to have been stolen from us, no longer belonging to our everyday routines and becoming spaces defined by imminent danger. Possibly the most difficult part of this is that we do not know with certainty when we can reclaim our cities, places we think of in a broad sense as our extended homes.

      As a 3rd year undergraduate student at UCLA, I certainly feel this way about our beautiful campus, which will remain closed for the foreseeable future. Transitioning to remote learning has allowed me and all students to continue pursuing our educations, but the “Bruin experience” has been placed on hold. Never before had I realized how much value I placed on grabbing coffee at Kerchoff or relaxing by Janss steps, among one hundred other small parts of my day. When we eventually approach a time when we can return to living our ‘normal’ lives, it will not and should not exactly resemble the routines we crave. As public health officials have argued, in contrast to those at our highest levels of government, we cannot simply ‘flip a switch’ and return to our daily routines from before COVID-19. We should also resist what H.L. Mencken called the temptation of the “human mind [to expunge] the intolerable from memory, just as it tries to conceal it while current.”

      This message becomes particularly resonant as we compare the current pandemic to the Spanish Flu from 1918-20. Before COVID-19, many had little knowledge of that period in American history. Portrayed almost as an ‘erased’ catastrophe often overshadowed by WWI and other major political developments, that pandemic has returned into our cultural consciousness with a vengeance. Nearly 100 years later, governments have acted in similarly ineffective ways by misrepresenting the scale of the pandemic or employing a patch-work approach to shutdowns across the United States. Then we have the plight of healthcare workers who risked their lives then and do so again, exposing themselves to risk every day to save ours. In 1918, nurses in overcrowded make-shift hospitals did not have appropriate masks, which were often simply pieces of cloth. Current shortages beg the question: why we have been unable to do much better in 2020. Furthermore, lives depend on the swift decisions of officials. In 1918, important measures, such as Los Angeles Public Health Commissioner Luther M. Powers’ rapid closing of social gatherings and construction of hospitals at the beginning of the Spanish flu outbreak, cannot be found in any history textbook.

           Looking towards a future unconstrained by the current pandemic, we must not yet again forget the lessons from 1918 which have returned to haunt us. In an age governed by fast-paced social media that fosters the drive to forget, we must not rush to “open up.” We must instead remember the lessons that have been taught for a second time. Our cities will not remain empty forever, but as UCLA students, Americans, and citizens of the world we must not return with a hollowed-out memory, however painful that may be.

           Maxim Pike Harrell, a third-year Global Studies and Italian major, wrote about the Spanish flu pandemic in Professor Caroline Ford’s History 187O: Environmental History in Global Perspective during Winter quarter 2020. His paper for that class had to be turned in remotely, as another pandemic was then threatening Los Angeles and the world. For his paper, see this link. 

    • Peter Baldwin - Wrote about "Dealing with Corona: Sweden Chooses the Relaxed Way" noting the differences in reactions from various countries to the novel COVID-19 on Berliner Zeitung, April 10, 2020.  Peter Baldwin serves on the faculty of both NYU and UCLA.
    • Carla Pestana - Chair's Welcome Spring 2020 - COVID-19 Edition, April 3, 2020

March 2020

    • Peter Baldwin - Spoke on “Contagion and the State: Epidemic Disease and the Social Contract,” on The History of Now podcast produced by Cambridge University’s History Department on March 30, 2020
    • Michael Meranze - "The University in a Moment of Intersecting Crises", Remaking the University, March 30, 2020
    • Vinay Lal - Essays from vinaylal.wordpress.com:
    • Vinay Lal - "Social Distancing, Loneliness, and the Other: Pandemics in History and COVID-19", Fiat Lux course (History 19-3) 2020 Spring Quarter ".  Excerpt from course syllabus:
      There is no question whatsoever that COVID-19’s relentless march across new territories has created a situation unknown in the memory of any living person. There certainly have been epidemics and even pandemics in the past—more recently, HIV, SARS, Ebola, H1N1 (swine flu), Zika, among the more prominent ones—but even at the height of the most pressing worldwide catastrophes, including World War I and II, the world was not shut down. There is, for example, no precedent in history for such widespread global restrictions on movement of people.  In this course, we will consider some of the historical, socio-cultural, ethical, and philosophical aspects of the coronavirus.  As every nation shuts down its borders to foreigners, and often internally to others marked by class, ethnicity, or age, will this increase insularity and xenophobia? Is the virus the death-knell of globalization? Does ‘social distancing’ exacerbate the problems of loneliness? If we cannot touch others, what do we lose?  Do we even in some ways cease to be human? Who are the new enemies? How do we create friendships in such a situation? Is the instinct to hoard primal? What are the origins of quarantine and social exclusion in the Bible? How have we coped with pandemics in the past?  These will be some of the many questions that we shall consider through brief readings and discussions.