History’s Ears Are Ringing: Examining Archival Evidence of Past Pandemics

Presented by: Wiley Digital Archives & Library Journal
Event Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2020


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As rumors began to circulate in late 2019 about a novel virus emerging in Wuhan, China, History Professor at the College of Charleston, Jacob Steere-Williams, followed the early reports and shared the latest news with his students. Were they facing a possible global pandemic like those they had studied together in class?  
Fast-forward a few months, and the current realities of COVID19 may seem totally unprecedented—businesses closing, strict quarantine measures, mask and other protections being required in public, mass illness and casualties—and yet for experts in the history of medicine like Steere-Williams, these events echo the medical, political, and social histories of earlier plagues, epidemics, and pandemics.
In this interactive discussion, Steere-Williams will offer a cross-disciplinary perspective on some of the major global pandemics that took place throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Using primary source evidence from historical archives, he will illustrate the troubling parallels between past crises and the current health crisis today; including the pitting of public health against economic, science against governmental policy, and the “us” against “them” attitude of xenophobia and nationalism that pervades global disease outbreaks.  
Drawing on his extensive knowledge and research in the history of science, medicine, and disease, Steere-Williams will also offer his own strategies for incorporating the topic into the classroom, documenting a global pandemic in an age of nearly-global information, and how we can expect research technologies to evolve in order to analyze the growing body of evidence being made accessible through digital archives.   

Audience members can expect to learn:
•    How past pandemics are represented in archives through maps, letters, images, reports and other primary sources
•    Common themes between past infectious disease outbreaks and the current response to the COVID-19 pandemic
•    Teaching and documenting an ongoing event of historical significance
•    Development of new technology and tools to help interpret unprecedented amount of information  




Jacob Steere-Williams, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of History, College of Charleston


Ray Abruzzi, Publisher, Wiley Digital Archives, Wiley


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