History students will have the opportunity to explore their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic in a historical context this fall thanks to a new course in the Faculty of Humanities.
HIST1P90 “Life in (and after) Hard Times: How Disasters Shape Societies” focuses on how societies move through and are shaped by changes, such as pandemics, natural disaster, human conflict and climate change.
“I’m trying to make it a positive course,” says Colin Rose, Assistant Professor of History. “We don’t want to dwell on the awful bits of history but focus on how societies adapt to difficulties and move through them.”
Students will be encouraged to consider their experiences with COVID-19 and how it is changing society while studying historic pandemics. Students will examine how the Justinian plague pandemic of the sixth century CE and the so-called Black Death, which moved through Europe in successive waves from the 14th to the 18th centuries, affected individuals and society.
The course also explores how issues of gender, colonization and racism played out in other disasters as well, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Rose hopes that understanding tips and tricks of how other societies have dealt with plagues may give students some solace as they reflect on their own experiences.
“It’s meant to be a course that gives students some perspective,” says Rose. “You can think about the timelines of these things and the historic context and that how hard it is for us. It’s certainly very hard, and it was very hard for people of the past as well.”
Students in HIST 4P53 Nations and Nationalism in Modern Europe will also be connecting the current pandemic to their studies.
“For the last week of the course, we will be examining how national self-perceptions may have influenced national reactions and strategies to dealing with the pandemic in various countries in Europe,” says Gregor Kranjc, Associate Professor of History.
Students will analyze the U.K. government’s response to the pandemic and its use of nationalist and memory tropes from the Battle of Britain and the Second World War. They’ll also look at Sweden’s more relaxed strategy based upon a national self-perception of being a nation that trusts its government and institutions, says Kranjc.
“History is very important in understanding how nations have responded to the pandemic,” says Kranjc. “With our world seemingly upended overnight by the pandemic, we are all left grasping for a way to make sense of it all. Like with all crises, we dip into a useable historic past to pluck out some examples that can comfort us by teaching us that humans — and in the context of the course, our nations — have undergone similar adversity in the past and we have emerged from it, and, in certain cases, stronger than before.”