Living through an infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19 is a shocking experience. Life changes over night and is tilted on its side. Fears for the health and well-being of our loved ones and ourselves are heightened. Our survival instinct kicks in. Daily life and daily challenges are radically altered. Social connections shift and human connection is curtailed. What would it have been like to live through a pandemic in the early 1900s or perhaps the 1300s? It is important to contextualize our recent experiences within the history of human pandemics. This chapter aims to shed light on that history, demonstrating the commonalities of pandemics and plagues, and human reactions to them, from the past and the present.
After completing the chapter materials, you should have an understanding of:
- Definitions of plagues and pandemics.
- Some of the causes and consequences of plagues and pandemics.
- The history of pandemics, including notable ones like the Black Death, Spanish Flu, HIV/AIDs, and COVID-19.
- Certain rhetoric commonly used during pandemics/plagues (i.e., pandemic deniers, anti-maskers, anti-vaccination).
Questions to Think About When Completing Chapter Materials
- What are some comparisons that can be made between previous pandemics and the COVID-19 pandemic?
- In discussing the societal impact of pandemics, what are some of the changes you had to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Which changes will you continue? How did these changes impact you?
- One of the changes a pandemic can bring is shifting worldviews. How has your worldview been altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic? If it hasn’t changed, explain why you think that might be.
- How do you think knowledge of past pandemics can help us understand contemporary ones?