Epidemics in History: Faculty Reflections on COVID-19

Professor with students

In times of crisis, historians look back in search of answers for the present. What seems to many as the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic appears familiar in historical perspective: humanity confronting the prospect of horrific losses, and a plague testing the social bonds. Epidemics call upon society to show solidarity, to care for others, and to protect the vulnerable. Not all such calls were answered positively in the past: Epidemics sometimes led to violent persecution of imagined villains, resulting in social oppression and expulsions. But, as Duke historians know, they were also the grounds for intellectual invention and regeneration.

The Duke faculty is committed to providing a model of solidarity in this time of crisis by sustaining the tradition of learning, continuing innovative teaching, and caring for our students and scholarly community.

Faculty Reflections

Margaret Humphreys

Josiah Charles Trent Professor of the History of Medicine

The "Dangerous Other"

It is human to fear the “dangerous other,” the person who brings disease or violence or death.  In prior epidemics the dangerous other was often easy to recognize... keep reading


Thomas Robisheaux

Professor of History

Intellectual Creativity

Historically, plagues have not only been disruptive and destructive, but also opportunities that inspired reflection and discovery. A few years after the ... keep reading


Jehangir Malegam

Associate Professor of History

Resilience and Resurgence

This is not the first time the world has had to cope with global pandemic nor may it be the last. Over the last two millennia major outbreaks of plague have rocked... keep reading


Nicole Barnes
Nicole Barnes

Assistant Professor of History


China and the Coronavirus: A Success Story

The history of medicine teaches us that we are all the descendants of hardy survivors. Our ancestors faced challenges like this.. keep reading


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