Carnegie Mellon University

Mini Course: COVID What History Can Teach Us

September 25, 2020

New Micro Course: (79-251) COVID-19: What History Can Teach Us

For many, the COVID-19 Pandemic feels like a rupture in time—a disaster unprecedented in scale and impact. Yet one-hundred years ago, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed between 17 million and 50 million people. That virus infected approximately a third of all human beings on the planet—some 500 million people. Since then, humanity has faced a series of influenza epidemics and other global catastrophes, from world wars to HIV-AIDS. Like COVID-19, those crises were shaped by pre-existing forms of inequality and discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, and other forms of identity. Pandemics affect everyone, but not equally. For many of the world’s poorest and most oppressed people, the COVID-19 pandemic feels less like a rupture than an escalation of long-standing inequalities. In the United States, the racial disparities of the pandemic reflect the long history of systemic racism. What can we learn from the past about how to cope with our current crisis? How can we confront the inequities and injustices of the world in the midst of such a crisis? This course will offer a historical lens on many of the most urgent and difficult questions that we face as a result of COVID-19:

  • How did past epidemics change the world?
  • How should we weigh the costs and benefits of closing schools and businesses?
  • What risks do democracies face during a pandemic? What can be done to address those risks?
  • What do the zoonotic origins of many viral pandemics say about relationships among humans and other lifeforms?
  • How can we as individuals and as a society best navigate times of economic recession and uncertainty?
  • How do pandemics reveal and worsen existing inequalities and discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, or other forms of identity?
  • What can we learn from artists, writers, and intellectuals who have responded to past pandemics?
  • What do we remember and what do we forget about pandemics over time?
  • How should we memorialize the dead?
  • How should we prepare for the next epidemic?

Students will be asked to watch pre-recorded lectures by CMU faculty and guest speakers, and to read short accompanying texts (articles, short stories, excerpts from diaries, and other historical documents). Our synchronous course time will include small-group conversations via zoom, on-line discussion boards, and opportunities to ask questions of CMU faculty and guest speakers. There will be some flexibility in regards to attendance of the synchronous sessions for students with course-related or work-related conflicts. The course will also include a 2-3 page essay and a personal reflection in the form of a letter to a future historian about COVID-19.

 

3-units, Mini 2, Fall 2020

Schedule of Synchronous Sessions:

 

Saturday 11/7 from 12-3pm and 4-6pm EST

Monday 11/9 from 6-8pm EST

Tuesday 11/10 from 6-8pm EST

Wednesday 11/11 from 6-8pm EST

Thursday 11/12 from 6-8pm EST

Friday 11/13 from 6-8pm EST

 

* There will be some flexibility in regards to attendance of the synchronous sessions for students with course-related or work-related conflicts.

Have questions about this course? Please contact Andrew Ramey: aramey@andrew.cmu.edu