The sudden transition to online learning and the disruption caused by the pandemic to the semester required a new approach to pedagogy, one that was responsive to the crisis unfolding around us and that utilized historical knowledge and thinking to empower students to navigate these changes. The resources you find here were my attempt to do that for my students. I will continue to update this page with more material, including links to other resources on COVID-19. Please feel free to use any and all of these resources in your teaching and/or community archiving initiatives. I would appreciate it if you cite, when circulating or using these materials.

 

Dr. Ananya Chakravarti 

 

Guide to Archiving COVID-19 

This slide deck introduces viewers to how historians think about events in the present and why we might believe COVID-19 is an event of world historical importance. Using examples from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, viewers will learn the basics about primary sources and archives. The deck also provides a framework within which to develop focused archival collections on COVID-19 by considering the various scales at which this pandemic is unfolding and is experienced. Lastly, it suggests some strategies for beginning a collection. You can also use the audio-visual version below with recorded commentary

Collective Learning and COVID-19

 

Given the enormous pressures students face in these new circumstances, I have found it helpful to use Google's Jamboard tool as a space for students to collectively process and articulate their complex reactions to the pandemic. As you can see from following the arc of one class session of HIST 129-03 on April 2, 2020, providing this space can be helpful for students 

We also use the Jamboards as a collective way to connect the readings from our syllabus, which are seemingly removed from our current context, to this project in meaningful ways . These Jamboards will form part of this archive.

 

Webinar on Archiving COVID-19

As part of the "Books for a Better World" webinar series, sponsored by Georgetown University Press, Georgetown College and Georgetown University Library, Dr. Chakravarti spoke to Al Bertrand, the Director of GU Press, about this project.

 

External Resources

There is a tremendous amount we do not yet know about COVID-19. We do know, however, that like all pandemics, its effects on humans are determined by social and political factors, and that paying attention historical processes can be helpful in understanding the present. The following resources may be helpful to educators as they think about how to address the pandemic in the classroom.

Emerging Scientific Research on COVID-19

Social Inequality and COVID-19

 

One of the cornerstones for how we discussed archiving the pandemic was to highlight the role social inequalities play in magnifying the effects of such crises, which in turn can exacerbate existing inequalities. The following resources may be helpful to introduce this idea in classrooms.

  • Minority groups are especially vulnerable at this moment in all societies.

  • Indigenous communities around the world are disproportionately vulnerable, as the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Anne Nuorgam, pointed out in this statement urging the global community to address the specific needs of these communities in the face of this pandemic. 

    • In Brazil, the current administration's aggressive policies towards developing the Amazon, including allowing encroachment on indigenous lands, combined with skepticism towards medical expertise on COVID-19, has created a devastating situation for communities with long histories of demographic collapse through exposure to pathogens brought by outsiders.

    • In the US, as the Indian Health Services data shows, Native American communities are some of the hardest-hit by the disease. As this memo from April 10,2020 by Harvard's Project on American Indian Economic Development to the US Secretary of the Treasury suggests, the crisis for the community is exacerbated by the disproportionate economic impact on a community with high rates of poverty, whose major source of tax revenue in the tribal enterprises like gaming has been lost in its entirety for the moment. Furthermore, the encroachment of the US government on tribal sovereignty, reflective of a long history of colonialism, has impacted the ability of Native American communities to protect themselves: see, for example, this powerful statement released on May 12, 2020 by the President of the Oglala Sioux community countering Montana Governor Kristi Noem's threats to unilaterally remove quarantine checkpoints on tribal lands.    

    • The vulnerability of indigenous communities around the world also has cultural ramifications. In the Andaman islands, COVID-19 threatens the loss of endangered languages, as the last speakers of these languages may fall victim to this disease, particularly given the disproportionate vulnerable of the elderly, who are repositories for community knowledge and memory, to the virus. 

  • As this policy brief by the UN Secretary General suggests, with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, even the limited gains made in the past decades towards gender equity are at risk of being rolled back. The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic on women.

    • One particularly upsetting outcome has been the increase worldwide of domestic violence, as women find themselves locked down with abusive partners and no access to outside resources or help. ​In Latin America, where femicide is already rampant, places like Mexico have seen alarming rates of women being murdered by intimate partners during the pandemic, even as the government dismissed the seriousness of the problem.

  • Labor and the working poor are disproportionately suffering the impacts of both the disease itself and the economic impact of the pandemic.

    • Watch this video of a conversation hosted by Georgetown University's Kalmanovitz Institute for Labor and the Working Poor, the Global Health Initiative and the Center for Latin American Studies with experts discussing the effect of the pandemic on Latin American workers.  

    • Images of the exodus of internal migrant workers leaving India's cities as they were left stranded by a hastily announced lockdown, and their maltreatment by authorities, have shocked the world. This conversation, with experts including the renowned economist Jean Drèze, discusses the impact of the pandemic on informal and migrant workers.  The migration scholar, Chinmay Tumbe, notes how different the Indian government's attitude towards migrant workers stranded abroad, who are often wealthier, was compared to the poor, often lower-caste internal migrants who were left without help.

    • Immigrant and undocumented workers in the US have been left particularly vulnerable. As the Center for Migration Studies in New York reports, immigrants comprise 31% of workers in New York State's essential businesses and 70% of the state’s undocumented labor force works in essential businesses. Yet, despite the reliance on such workers of society at large, not only has their disproportionate representation in frontline work exposed them more to the disease, for undocumented workers in particular, fear of exposure has made it difficult to seek help from the state. 

Thinking Historically

 

​As historians, we must always be cautious about making analogies from one event in one moment in time to another. While the world has been riven by pandemics before, the environmental, demographic, social, cultural, political and environmental contexts in which this current pandemic is playing out is different from any that has come before. Rather, we can use history to think about processes that continue to structure the current moment. 

  • Timothy Newfield, assistant professor of history and biology at Georgetown University and a specialist of the plague, makes a powerful argument cautioning us from drawing hasty analogies from historical pandemics to our current circumstances. 

  • This piece by the classicist and historian Walter Scheidel is a thoughtful historicization of why the far deadlier Spanish Flu did not wreck the global economy, and why we should be cautious in using that analogy to urge reopening. Though he is largely focused on the US, it is important to remember the Spanish Flu played out not only in a world where expectation of preservation of life as a governmental function and philosophical vitalism was not the dominant cultural paradigm, but where the hardest-hit countries, especially India, were colonies and therefore unable to over-ride a colonial state's prioritization of its economic goals over the lives of its subjects. 
  • The medical historian Merlin Chowkyanyun and political scientist Adolph J. Reed Jr make a powerful case for why it is important to add historical context to medical data on racial disparities in outcomes of COVID-19. Drawing on the work of Lundy Braun, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and Africana Studies on the spirometer that shows the enduring medical discourse of biologic differences between the respiratory organs of black people and white people, they caution us that biologic definitions of race continue to persist and may distort how data is understood. Secondly, such data presented without historical context may continue to feed into stereotypes about racial behavior which can then create victim-blaming discourses around disease: as they point out, "racialized characterization of behavior is common in popular media discussions of conditions such as obesity, a coexisting condition that increases one’s risk for developing severe Covid-19." Thirdly, granular data on geographic dispersion of COVID-19 can contribute to what the sociologist Loïc Wacquant has dubbed “territorial stigmatization,” whereby resource-deprived neighborhoods are seen as being occupied by poor people, minorities and foreigners. Already, coverage of COVID-19 in cities like New York and Washington DC has disproportionately focused wards with heavily African-American residents or on the racial composition and density of these neighborhoods. This can then lead to the worst possible public health policy outcomes as problems are seen to be "racial," "and therefore of concern only to supposed minority interest groups," a rationale that has been used to rationalize neglect and funding cuts, or to pursue policies like reopening too quickly, under the misguided and racist belief that it will not affect other groups. 

Other Projects

  • Jordan Sand, Professor of History at Georgetown University, and his students also responded to the unique circumstances of the pandemic in their course on "Approaches to the Modern City." In their gorgeous website, you can find fascinaing snapshots and oral histories of the cities to which the members of the course were forced to disperse in the face of the pandemic.

 
 
 
 

© 2020 Dr. Ananya Chakravarti

Thanks to Rajeev Kozhikattuthodi, Eshan Gupta, and Jaron Berman for their help in building this website.

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HIST 129-03, 04/02/2020- Jamboard 3

This were the thoughts occupying students in Section 3 of HIST 129 in the beginning of class on April 2, 2020