This option gives you the chance to trace some historical antecedents for the current pandemic in the United States.
Option A. Historical Perspectives on Covid-19
This option gives you the chance to trace some historical antecedents for the current pandemic in the
United States. You may focus on a particular event, theme, or problem relating to the Covid-19 crisis, and
approach it from a historical perspective. What larger processes in American history help us understand this
current crisis? What past events offer some insights or lessons for today?
Some possible topics or themes to explore:
• A past pandemic, between 1877 and the present. For example, the 1918 influenza, HIV/AIDS, Ebola
in 2014. You should not just compare and contrast the two pandemics, but really use a past medical
event to help us understand how we got here, and why we continue to face certain obstacles to
• The history of vaccines and vaccination campaigns. For months, many of us have had our eyes set
on a future vaccine that will carry us out of this crisis. What does the history of vaccines tell us
about our current reliance on this potential solution, and perhaps the problems that might arise in
its administration? This topic takes you deeper into the history of medicine and public health in the
United States, where you might investigate the role of politics and government funding for public
health and research, or the tensions between public health mandates (to be vaccinated for certain
diseases) and individual liberties. This might take you to the smallpox vaccination campaign in the
Progressive era, or the development and widespread popularity of the polio vaccine, or anti-
vaccination movements in modern American history – as just a few examples.
• Race and racism in health and medicine. Epidemiological data has shown that people of color have
been more severely impacted by the current pandemic. This is part of a longer pattern of health
disparities along lines of race, ethnicity, and class. Investigate the history of race in American
medicine, by focusing on a specific topic, such as segregation of hospitals and medical schools, or
the biography of a particular African American health worker.
• Political responses to disasters or crises. Look at a particular disaster, such as a devasting hurricane
(the “Great Miami Hurricane” of 1926, Andrew in 1992 Miami, Katrina in 2005 New Orleans, or
Maria in Puerto Rico), nuclear disasters (or fear of nuclear attack) during the Cold War, or the Great
Depression of the 1930s. How did the government respond? What is the role of the government in
protecting citizens from crises? What forms of prevention, relief, and recovery have worked in the
past, to shed light on how the government might respond to crisis today?
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