Episode 76 - Vermin with Lisa Sarasohn
Lisa Sarasohn (Oregon State University) joins the Infectious Historians to discuss her forthcoming book on vermin since the 17th century. The interview begins with an overview of what vermin are - and how different animal species have been included or excluded throughout the years. The conversation then moves to touch upon early modern conceptions of vermin which eventually led to the stereotyping of human groups as verminous or vermin in the context of colonialism and imperialism. Lisa also expands on two specific species of vermin - lice and rats - before tying the discussion to Covid.
September 5, 2021
Episode 75 - Translational Humanities with Kirsten Ostherr
Kirsten Ostherr (Rice University) joins Merle and Lee to discuss the role of the humanities in the context of Covid, in particular in an applied sense. The interview begins with an overview of Kirsten’s project and a few examples of current work in the applied humanities that attempts to address Covid. Kirsten notes how her background has helped her reconsider and reframe the traditional roles of the humanities in this context, and continues to highlight some of the limits and challenges the humanities must face in the 21st century mediascape. She also comments on some ideas to increase the humanities outreach among specific and more receptive audiences.
August 29, 2021
Episode 74 - Smallpox, Inoculations, and the American Revolution with Andrew Wehrman
Andrew Wehrman (Central Michigan University) talks to Merle and Lee about the importance of public health, especially smallpox and inoculations, during the American Revolution. After first orienting listeners to the political situation in North America, Andrew discusses differences between public health in Britain and the colonies, along with how the colonists used quarantine and isolation to stop the spread of smallpox. He then discusses the importance of inoculation in preventing smallpox on a broader scale, along with how the movement of armies during the Revolution led to more demand for more readily available inoculation even for the poor (although not Native Americans). At the end, he offers similarities between 18th century epidemics and Covid including why vaccines changed the calculus and why some outbreaks of smallpox were worse than others.
August 20, 2021
Episode 73 - Disease Studies Reflections during Covid
Merle and Lee have a reflective episode. The discussion begins with disease studies in academia during the pandemic in attempt to understand to what extent has the pandemic changed the ways in which scholars in the humanities and in particular history departments work on disease. When will things change? Should we expect a paradigm shift anytime soon? The conversation then moves towards resilience as a concept. Is it desirable or just a fuzzy buzzword? Merle and Lee also discuss the pros and cons of outreach and attempts to influence policy before transitioning to a brief discussion about the future of the podcast.
August 13, 2021
Episode 72 - Climate Change and the Globalization of Disease in the Early Middle Ages with Tim Newfield
Tim Newfield (Georgetown University) talks to Merle and Lee about the connected histories of climate change and diseases that become pandemics, focusing on the early medieval and late antique periods. Tim opens by discussing the global cooling events starting in 536 and how researchers know they happened through various proxy datasets, such as tree rings, along with how historians should approach using these types of natural sources. He then talks about the long-term climate cooling event, the Late Antique Little Ice Age, along with its supposed connections to the outbreak of the Justinianic Plague in 541. Tim also talks about why researchers have remained so focused on the influence of climate on plague. At the end, he discusses where he believes the field of pre-modern historical diseases is going and the influence of Covid in this trajectory.
August 6, 2021
Episode 71 - Zombie Films with Todd Platts
Todd Platts (Piedmont Virginia Community College) joins Merle and Lee to discuss his work on zombie films over the past half century. He begins by offering a history of zombie movies and the changing features and definition of the zombie. Todd points to a few key films - in particular George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead which eventually resulted in the explosion of zombie-related material in the 21st century. The conversation then moves to discuss disease movies more broadly and in particular in the context of Covid - why did these disease movies become so popular at the beginning of Covid? And what purposes did they serve for their viewers?
July 30, 2021
Episode 70 - Covid, Policy and History with Ben Trump
Ben Trump (US Army) joins the Infectious Historians for a wide-ranging conversation. He begins with his public health work before Covid and his path to the US Army. Ben then outlines the Covid pandemic through his experience of working on several related projects, already since January/February 2020. Some of these included how Covid might spread in the US’ Pacific islands to figure out the responses needed there, or how to solve basic questions (such as where would personal protective equipment or ventilators go). Ben also shares his experience in trying to draw connections between historical pandemics and our current experience, arguing that the historical case studies are useful in several aspects, for example in how people deal with risk.
July 23, 2021
Episode 69 - Ottoman Medicines and Disease with Miri Shefer Mossensohn
Miri Shefer Mossensohn sits down with Merle and Lee to talk about Ottoman history of medicines and disease. She begins by discussing the broad contours of medicine and disease in the Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 600 years. Miri reveals the wide variety of medical individuals and institutions that existed in the Ottoman world, with few standardized systems until the 19th century, that meant people who sought treatment had huge numbers of options. During the conversation, she offers numerous examples of how infectious diseases were constantly around and accepted, leading to little proactive government policy. At the end, Miri discusses her time teaching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Islamic history.
July 16, 2021
Episode 68 - Persecution of minorities during the Black Death with Tzafrir Barzilay
Tzafrir Barzilay (Ben Gurion University of the Negev) joins Merle and Lee to discuss persecution of minorities and in particular Jews before and during the Black Death. After some background on the Black Death, Tzafrir uses the case study of Strasbourg to demonstrate how persecutions of minorities could be deeply embedded in local politics. The conversation touches upon some of the practicalities of blaming Jews and other minorities for disease epidemics, and Tzafrir differentiates between well poisoning and other types of accusations such as ritual murder and host desecration. Near the end of the interview, the conversation reflects on the difficulties medieval decision makers faced when having partial and biased information at their disposal in the context of the Black Death and widespread uncertainty (e.g. well-poisoning accusations).
July 9, 2021
Episode 67 - Plague in Bombay and Urban Ecology with Emily Webster
Emily Webster (University of Chicago) joins Merle and Lee to discuss the significant plague outbreaks in Bombay during the Third Plague Pandemic of the turn of the 20th century and the place of environmental history in studying disease. After first surveying the Pandemic and its particular impact in Bombay, Emily discusses why the experience of Bombay was central to how plague was conceptualized across the British Empire and the world. She then explains the importance of urban ecology to understanding the severity of these outbreaks, along with how sanitary measures in Bombay exacerbated the spread of plague, rather than reducing its severity. At the end, Emily talks about her time earning a masters in public health as she was finishing her dissertation along with implications it revealed about the work of historians and scientists.
July 2, 2021
Episode 66 - Early Modern Pandemics, Quantitative Research and Inequality with Daniel Curtis
Daniel Curtis (Erasmus University Rotterdam) talks to Merle and Lee about his diverse work that touches upon multiple disease-related fields. After an overview of the timeframe in which Daniel works - the late medieval and early modern periods, the conversation moves to a discussion of scholarly collaboration in the humanities. Daniel then discusses the benefits and challenges in quantitative work, especially in premodern contexts, and points out that few scholars reflect upon the biases in the datasets. These issues are connected to Daniel’s current project, which looks at inequality in the aftermath of premodern pandemic. The end of the interview focuses on another of Daniel’s recent projects - looking at diseases, epidemics and pandemics in film, where he examines how women or the poor appear in these films, or how they portray heroism.
June 25, 2021
Episode 65 - Scientific Freedom, the Cold War, and Communicating Science with Audra Wolfe
Audra Wolfe talks to Merle and Lee about her work on scientific freedom during the Cold War and how it still shapes ideas about objectivity and politics in science to the present. After framing the discussion about the Cold War, Audra explains the notion of scientific freedom that supposedly allowed scientists to develop their own research agenda without state interference, which was created in opposition to the Soviet scientific system. She then discusses how this myth was made, especially in light of the Manhattan Project among other examples. Audra then moves on to discuss science, objectivity, and the idea of politicizing science from the end of the Cold War to the present. At the end, she reflects upon the different ways in which science is communicated to the public and history’s place in this process. Image credit: HARRY KERR/BIPS/GETTY IMAGES
June 18, 2021
Episode 64 - Commerce, Capitalism, and the Making of Modern Medicine with Zachary Dorner
Zachary Dorner (University of Maryland) comes on to discuss his new book, Merchants of Medicine, which discusses the role of merchants, commerce, and capitalism in changing how medicine was made, administered, and thought about across the 18th century. Zack discusses the ideas about medicine before the 18th century and then highlights the dramatic changes in commerce and capitalism that shaped how people consumed and thought about what medicine should do by the end of the century. He highlights the role of early modern states and the development of what would become pharmaceutical companies in this process, while linking these changes to questions of race and ethnicity among others. At the end, Zack connects these new ideas about medicine to how we think about disease today, the often neglected role of social factors, and how medical ideas have been used during Covid that continue this legacy to the present.
June 11, 2021
Episode 63 - How Plague was Taught during a Pandemic with Janet Kay
Janet Kay (Princeton) returns to the Infectious Historians to discuss her promised after action report on teaching her 100 person course, The Art & Archaeology of Plague, at Princeton University. After reminding listeners about the structure of the course, Janet discusses two key features: plague simulations and the guest lecturers from around the world (including using an episode of the Infectious Historians!). She talks about what worked in the course, what students liked and struggled with, and the amazing work her teaching assistants did. At the end, Janet reflects on how she will teach the course again in a few years and what teaching this course might be like in 10 or 20 years.
June 4, 2021
Episode 62 - Cancer with Robin Scheffler
Robin Scheffler (MIT) joins the Infectious Historians to discuss his recent book on cancer. Robin begins the interview with a broad discussion of cancer and the different ways it was perceived and conceptualized over the past century. The discussion touches upon topics such as the so-called “war” on cancer and its meaning; cancer and gender; some of the trends and individuals involved in cancer research; and finally, government involvement in cancer research and some of the factors that influence it.
May 28, 2021
Episode 61 - Lyme Disease and Long Term Symptoms with Abigail Dumes
Abigail Dumes (University of Michigan) sits down to talk to Merle and Lee about her anthropological work on Lyme Disease and how it has shaped ideas about long term disease effects on people. After defining Lyme Disease and why its numbers have increased over the last few decades, she turns to the debate over clinical diagnosis of the disease and those who have experienced long term symptoms. Dumes traces out the significant implications of this debate and how it might change disease diagnoses and responses in the future. Finally, she discusses how her work on Lyme Disease can have implications for “long” Covid sufferers, which could reshape ideas about disease in the future.
May 21, 2021
Episode 60 - Plague and Microbiology in Brazil with Matheus Duarte
Matheus Duarte (University of St. Andrews) comes on the podcast to talk to Merle and Lee about his work on turn of the 20th century plague in Brazil and its impact on creating the field of microbiology. After a brief introduction to disease history in Brazil at the time, Matheus discusses the impact and immediate non-medical responses to the plague outbreak in Brazil and their implications for global events. He then discusses the use of pharmaceutical responses - vaccines and serums - in Brazil and their subsequent use in other places around the world, particularly India. At the end, Matheus discusses the key role these responses in Brazil, and their use around the world, played in the rise of microbiology in Europe and globally to this day.
May 14, 2021
Episode 59 - COVID Calls with Scott Knowles
Scott Gabriel Knowles (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) joins Merle and Lee to talk about his daily show since March 2020, Covid Calls. Scott begins by providing background to his show, the guests he has had on, and his audience’s responses to the show. He then discusses some of the broad themes he has learned during his 269 shows (as of our taping), including the importance of local context during Covid and the ways in which new themes continue to emerge over the past fourteen months. At the end, he lays out a hopeful vision of what his work, and other public projects of historians and social scientists, could do to shape responses to disasters and Covid in the future.
May 7, 2021
Episode 58 - Carolingian Medicine with Meg Leja
Meg Leja (SUNY Binghamton) joins Merle and Lee to discuss her work on early medieval medicine and the Carolingians. Meg begins the conversation by situating the Carolingians historically and explaining why they have been written out of the “standard” story of history of medicine. She continues by discussing how the Carolingians thought about health and medicine, while also pointing out some of the issues of concern - and innovations - of the Carolingian period. Among the topics that come up are the supposed dichotomy between “medical” knowledge and “religious” ideas and the extent to which these ideas were held among contemporaries. Meg also links the Carolingian story to broader issues in medieval medicine and reflects upon its importance to non-medievalists.
April 30, 2021
Episode 57 - Historical Epidemiology with Jim Webb
Jim Webb (Colby College) comes on the podcast to talk to Merle and Lee about his work in historical epidemiology and how its multidisciplinary approach could transform how we teach and research diseases. After first defining what historical epidemiology is and why it is a difficult field in which to do research, Jim gives examples of how he approached these questions based on his malaria research in both the recent and deep past. He then turns to how research on diseases works today and how historical epidemiology could help transform research, teaching, and academia as a whole moving forward. At the end, Jim discusses his recent book on intestinal diseases and how his research was different and similar based on environmental, ecological, and social factors that shaped its impact.
April 24, 2021
Episode 56 - Historical Demography of Infectious Diseases, Policy and Outreach with Svenn-Erik Mamelund
Svenn-Erik Mamelund (OsloMet) joins Merle and Lee to discuss his work. The first part of the interview focuses on Svenn-Erik’s research as a historical demographer focusing on the 1918 influenza pandemic, and he shares some of the findings about the differential effects of the pandemic on certain groups in the population. In the second half, the conversation moves to discuss Svenn-Erik’s experiences using his research to influence policy in the context of the Covid pandemic, and more broadly conducting outreach. Svenn-Erik shares some of his ideas and suggestions about both policy and outreach. Fore additional material click here.
April 16, 2021
Episode 55 - Polio in Hungary and the End of Epidemics with Dora Vargha
Dora Vargha (University of Exeter) talks to Merle and Lee about her work on polio epidemics after World War Two in Hungary. After unpacking the basic information on polio’s longer history, Dora discusses how polio struck Hungary during the 1950s and the way in which vaccines were introduced that stopped the epidemics by the 1960s. She uses polio as a lens to reveal some of the shifting gaps in the Iron Curtain, where east and west worked together to stop these deadly epidemics. Dora then talks about how her work on polio has led her to reconceptualize how epidemics are traditionally seen as ending, along with what this idea might reveal about the so-called end of Covid.
April 9, 2021
Episode 54 - Alexandre Yersin with Michael Vann
Michael Vann (California State University, Sacramento) returns to the Infectious Historians (our first returning guest!), this time to focus on the biography of Alexandre Yersin, the Swiss-French doctor who discovered the bacterium that causes plague. The discussion covers Yersin’s biography from childhood, through his move to southeast Asia, his successful career and larger-than-life reputation - alongside the less palatable aspects of Yersin’s life. The conversation also touches upon issues such as Yersin’s entrepreneurship, his life as a European within a colonial context, and his personality.
April 2, 2021
Episode 53 - Joshua Lederberg: Public Science and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases with Nathan Crowe
Nathan Crowe (U. of North Carolina-Wilmington) comes on the podcast to talk about the life and career of Joshua Lederberg, a key figure in various fields including biology, genetics, and disease from just after World War Two until his death in 2008. Nathan first sketches out Lederberg’s background and his early career, including his work that received a Nobel Prize in 1958 when he was in his mid-30s. He then talks to Merle and Lee about how Lederberg transformed his new status into various public science and governmental policy roles, which also expanded the topics he worked on to include exobiology and diseases among others. At the end, Nathan discusses how Lederberg is remembered now and what his legacy is for infectious diseases today.
March 26, 2021
Episode 52 - 1st Anniversary Episode!
Merle and Lee celebrate a full year of Infectious Historians (52 episodes)! They reflect on the past year and the podcast, after re-listening to their not-so-bad first episode. They then survey the broad topics that the podcast covered so far - such as local experiences or disease in popular culture - mentioning some of the guests they interviewed along the way. The conversation then moves on to highlight some of the recurring themes that appeared in the episodes this past year, including Lee’s favorite time period - the turn of the 20th century - and Merle’s favorite -isms such as imperialism and colonialism. Merle and Lee then outline the near future of the podcast, and conclude the discussion with a brief survey of the podcast’s diverse audience. Thank you all for listening, and thanks again to all our guests through the year - it’s been great!
March 19, 2021
Episode 51 - Yellow Fever in New Orleans with Urmi Engineer Willoughby
Urmi Engineer Willoughby (Pitzer College) joins the Infectious Historians to discuss Yellow Fever, with a focus on New Orleans over the course of the 19th century. Urmi first talks about the biological, the environmental, and human factors that shaped the spread of Yellow Fever from Africa to the Americas across the last few centuries. She then moves on to discuss its particular importance in the city of New Orleans with its differential effects on inhabitants depending on race and class in particular. Finally, she talks about questions of immunized people who survived Yellow Fever along with the ways in which her work could be used in other times and places, including today during Covid.
March 12, 2021
Episode 50 - Ancient Medicine and Heresy with Jessica Wright
Jessica Wright (University of Sheffield) joins the Infectious Historians team to discuss ancient medicine. The conversation begins with a definition of ancient medicine (and a reflection upon its meaning), as well as considering how ancient practitioners conceived of infectious diseases and infection. The discussion then moves to Christian heresies, which Jessica explains and connects to her own work that shows how certain ancient writers such as Augustine understood these Christian heresies as mental illnesses. At the end, Jessica reflects on the use of mental health related language in the present as a way to discredit one’s (often political/ideological) opponent.
March 5, 2021
Episode 49 - The Medieval Translation Movement and Late Ancient Medical Texts with John Mulhall
John Mulhall (Harvard University) joins the Infectious Historians to talk about the famous medieval translation movement and his own work on late antique texts. John first talks about what the translation movement was (and was not) along with how it worked and why it is so central to histories of medicine, science, and philosophy. In the second part of the episode, John turns to his own work on late ancient medical texts that were innovative in their understanding of medicine, disease, and especially plague as reactions to events happening in the world. At the end, he reflects upon what these new texts will mean for histories of the plague.
February 26, 2021
Episode 48 - Black workers in the US Military: Immune or Infectious? with Khary Polk
Khary Polk (Amherst College) joins the Infectious Historians to talk about his recent book on African-American workers in the US military, particularly in the context of their perceived immunity to certain infectious diseases such as Yellow Fever. The conversation touches upon several related topics, such as patriotism and gender roles in the military. Khary also describes how racial thinking shifted over time, and how African-American troops were (mis-)treated within the military over the first half of the twentieth century. The conversation concludes with the potential links between Khary’s research and the Covid pandemic
February 18, 2021
Episode 47 - HIV/AIDS: Patient Zero, History, and Popular Culture with Richard McKay
Richard McKay (University of Cambridge) talks to Merle and Lee about his work on the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with a particular focus on Patient Zero and the history of the disease. After speaking about the problematic idea of the term Patient Zero, including its chance development, he discusses the early history of the epidemic and its popularization in broader public culture. He then turns to how these public perceptions of HIV/AIDS, and Covid, shape policy responses to disease along with some possible ways forward for historians to engage in public work in the future.
February 11, 2021
Episode 46 - Ancient DNA and Paleogenetics with Stephanie Marciniak
Stephanie Marciniak (Penn State University) joins Merle and Lee to discuss some of the fascinating developments in studying historical diseases from a scientific perspective: ancient DNA and more broadly paleogenetics. Stephanie provides some context for this research approach, before touching upon several related topics: the process of researching ancient DNA, the diseases that we can (or cannot) identify in human remains, some of the research questions that interest ancient DNA scientists, and a few issues concerning numbers of remains and of positive identifications of disease.
February 4, 2021
Episode 45 - Teaching Plagues and Pandemics with Janet Kay
Janet Kay (Princeton University) talks to Merle and Lee for a special episode about preparing to teach her “Art & Archaeology of Plague” during the upcoming Spring 2021 semester. She discusses her planning for the broad chronological range of her course that runs from the Plague of Athens (c. 430 BCE) to Covid-19, while introducing Plague Simulations, an innovative set of assignments, and several guest lectures by colleagues. Janet then talks about why she thought this was a perfect time to offer a course like this and how she hopes it will help students think about disease and pandemics of the past while reflecting on our world today. At the end, she promises to come back at the end of the semester and talk about how the course went. For more content related to the episode, click here.
January 29, 2021
Episode 44 - Epidemiology and Infectious Disease Models with Lukas Engelmann
Lukas Engelmann (University of Edinburgh) joins Merle and Lee to discuss the history of epidemiology. The conversation begins by thinking about epidemiology as a discipline as well as the gap between the discipline and scholars who use epidemiology. After discussing the development of epidemiology, including in the context of Covid-19, the interview moves to reflect upon infectious disease models, which have become especially popular in the recent pandemic. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of models are discussed, as well as some of the different approaches in how to evaluate them.
January 21, 2021
Episode 43 - Ebola Outbreaks in West Africa with Adia Benton
Adia Benton (Northwestern University) talks to Merle and Lee about the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 and why that disease in particular has terrified Western audiences since the late 20th century. After discussing the basics on what Ebola is, where it was discovered, and where it is found today, Adia expands upon its recent large outbreak in West Africa. She then examines why so little time was spent on caring for people who got sick with it and why Ebola has such a powerful sway over popular imagination. She then outlines what she calls racial immuno-logic before reflecting on Ebola and Covid at the end of the episode.
January 14, 2021
Episode 42 - The Age of Pandemics in India and the World with Chinmay Tumbe
Chinmay Tumbe (Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad) talks to Merle and Lee about his new book, The Age of Pandemics, that reveals the story of how three pandemics - cholera, plague and influenza - have significantly affected India over the course of the long 19th century, resulting in episodes of mass mortality. He first discusses some background on all three pandemics and then turns to why they have not had significant historical scholarship on them over the last century. Chinmay then offers thoughts on new ways to approach the history of pandemics moving forward. At the end, he turns to the process of writing the book during Covid.
January 7, 2021
Episode 41 - The Justinianic Plague and the Making of the Plague Concept
Merle and Lee record their final episode for 2020 in which they cover a recently published article of theirs. The article, published in the American Historical Review, examines how scholars thought about the Justinianic Plague over the past century and a half. While the scholarly interpretation of plague increased to include more deaths over a longer period and a wider geographical scope, Merle and Lee argue that a more critical analysis reveals that much of this understanding is based on limited evidence and can be better explained through what they term as “the plague concept” - the difference between what plague actually did and our assumptions of what plague should do, by its definition - which often tend towards exaggeration. The discussion therefore examines the changing mortality of plague alongside its different chronology and geographic scope, and then touches upon a couple of truisms - our almost automatic association of the plague with rats and climate which tends to oversimplify the evidence. Merle and Lee wrap up with a discussion of some potential next steps in research on the Justinianic Plague.
December 24, 2020
Episode 40 - Forgetting and Remembering the 1918 Influenza Pandemic with Guy Beiner
Guy Beiner (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) talks to Merle and Lee about his work on the memory and forgetting of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. Guy first provides background about the impact of the Influenza Pandemic and offers an introduction to memory studies and social forgetting while pointing to problems with concepts such as collective memory. During the discussion Guy examines how historical events are remembered, then surveys the different ways academics and the public have discussed the 1918 Influenza in the past century. He highlights key moments that increased attention to the topic, such as the publication of Alfred Crosby’s book on the topic or the 1968 “Hong Kong Flu”. Finally, Guy reflects upon the most recent wave of attention to the 1918 pandemic during the present-day Covid pandemic.
December 18, 2020
Episode 39 - Environmental History: Past, Present, and Future with John McNeill
John McNeill (Georgetown University) speaks with Merle and Lee about the changes to environmental and disease history over the last half century. After laying out his definition of environmental history, John discusses the background of the field, then reflects on how different chronological and geographical fields use sources along with how this may change moving forward. Following the previous episode, the question of agency of non-humans is raised again. The conversation touches upon other issues as well - collaboration, how it works and how it may change in the discipline of history. The question of engaging public audiences for example through writing for non-specialists, or creating podcasts and documentaries. For additional details and readings, visit the episode's page on our website!
December 11, 2020
Episode 38 - Animals and Epidemics with Susan Jones
Susan Jones (University of Minnesota) talks to Merle and Lee about the role of animals in the spread of diseases and how these diseases can spill over from animals to humans. After laying out some background on the topic, she discusses her new work on “Plague Homelands” in Soviet central Asia during the 20th century. Susan talks about how the Soviet state first attempted to eliminate and then control the spread of plague in various regions, with the implications for people, animals, and the environment. At the end, she reflects upon how her unique background, a doctorate in veterinary medicine in addition to a doctorate in the history of science, shapes the questions she asks about historical sources and animals.
December 4, 2020
Episode 37 - The Local Effects of Covid in Kansas City with A.J. Herrmann
A.J. Herrmann (Director of Policy for Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Missouri) speaks with Merle and Lee about one of their key ideas, the diversity of local experiences during a pandemic, tying it to the present-day experience of Covid in Kansas City since the beginning of the pandemic. AJ begins by laying out the complex regional administrative and political situation of Kansas City, which straddles two states and multiple counties. He then moves on to a discussion of the city’s roll out of its first Covid policies in March and the responses and problems it encountered, as the city adjusted to new realities. At the end, AJ discusses communicating these policies to the citizens of the city and plans to prepare for potential vaccines. For additional content visit our website!
November 30, 2020
Episode 36 - Epidemics, the Media, and Collective Memory with Katie Foss
Katie Foss (Middle Tennessee State University) talks to Merle and Lee about her recently published book on epidemics in the media and collective memory in U.S. history from the early 18th century to the mid-20th century. Katie discusses the changes in media technology and how this shifted the coverage of epidemics across these two centuries. She then turns to how the media plays a key role in shaping narratives along with governments and academic research. The conversation also discusses the media’s role in shaping long-term memories of epidemics and diseases. Finally, Katie discusses what it was like to finish a book on epidemics during the COVID pandemic.
November 19, 2020
Episode 35 - Ancient Malaria with David Pickel
David Pickel, PhD Candidate at Stanford University and Director of Excavations, La Villa Romana di Poggio Gramignano Archaeological Project, Lugnano in Teverina, Italy sits down with Merle and Lee to talk about his research on malaria in the ancient world from both a local and a global perspective. He discusses his ongoing archaeological excavation of a child cemetery, which may have been used specifically for victims of malaria. The conversation then turns to how and why historians suggest malaria had a starring role in stopping Attila the Hun and malaria’s use in the fall of Rome narrative. Finally, he reflects upon the new collaborative work on malaria published across various disciplines recently. Further reading for the episode.
November 12, 2020
Episode 34 - Vaccinations in China with Mary Augusta Brazelton
Mary Brazelton (University of Cambridge) joins Merle and Lee to talk about her work on vaccinations in China in the early and mid-twentieth century. Mary highlights the Chinese governments’ attempts to vaccinate its citizens, including in times of war, and the different options citizens and officials had at their disposal. The conversation also covers science in China and Chinese scientists’ involvement with the global intellectual community. Finally, the discussion touches upon re-introducing China to global pandemic narratives, while at the same time attempting to avoid stereotypical depictions of China as the origin of pandemic. Further reading recommendations for this episode.
November 9, 2020
Episode 33 - Syphilis and Sexual Health in the United States (1890-1940) with Elliott Bowen
Elliott Bowen (Nazarbayev University) joins Merle and Lee to discuss his work on sexual health more broadly. The conversation focuses on syphilis, a venereal disease, between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries in the United States. The disease itself is first put into its social and cultural contexts. One of the most popular centers for the treatment of syphilis at the time was Hot Springs, Arkansas. Elliott outlines some of the experiences of people who came to visit the city, ranging from frequent scalding-hot baths to mercury treatment. The different experiences of underrepresented groups are also touched upon, as are some of the other phenomenon associated with the town such as the widespread prostitution in it. Link to additional material on the Infectious Historians website.
October 29, 2020
Episode 32 - Typhoid Fever and Epidemiology in Victorian England with Jacob Steere-Williams
Jacob Steere-Williams (College of Charleston) discusses the role of typhoid fever in Victorian (19th century) England as a key reason for the development of epidemiology. The chat begins with some background about typhoid and its effects along with comparisons to other diseases such as cholera and plague. Jacob then surveys how epidemiology developed over the course of the late 19th century and its place in history, discussing how it has been forgotten compared to bacteriology and Germ Theory. At the end, Jacob briefly chats about the place of epidemiology today and the place of England in the study of public health more broadly. In the post-interview section, Merle and Lee have a meta discussion where they reflect upon the numerous episodes over the last few months about late 19th century diseases, pandemics, and public health and what the future of the history of disease might look like.
October 23, 2020
Episode 31 - Indigenous Perceptions of Disease: Smallpox in Mexico with Tara Malanga
Tara Malanga (Rutgers University) comes on the podcast to discuss her research on colonial Mexico. The conversation begins with a survey of smallpox and the situation in the New World just before Columbus, then examines smallpox after Contact. Tara describes some of the sources and methodology she uses in her research, and describes some of the ways indigenous populations understood the new infectious diseases they encountered, particularly in the sixteenth century. In the post-interview reflection session, Merle and Lee discuss meta level academic research, comparing their own field and discipline to others. Visit our website for the episode's additional readings.
October 16, 2020
Episode 30 - Smallpox, Slavery, and Vaccinations with Elise Mitchell
Elise Mitchell (NYU) sits down to talk to Merle and Lee for the second episode of their mini-arc on vaccines and vaccinations. They discuss the impact of smallpox and forced inoculations on enslaved people during the 17th and 18th centuries, the experiences of enslaved people during this process, and governmental and non-governmental responses to epidemic outbreaks. At the end, Elise talks about the importance of her work during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This episode concludes our two-episode mini-arc on vaccinations, and we recommend listening to them both if you’re interested in the topic!
October 9, 2020
Episode 29 - Vaccinations and anti-Vaxxers with Jim Harris
Jim Harris (Ohio State University) joins Merle and Lee to offer an overview of the development of vaccinations since the first smallpox vaccine in the late 18th century. The discussion touches upon pre-18th century practices for treating smallpox, before examining the spread in vaccination use. The second part of the interview moves to discuss anti-vaccination ideas and movements in their socio-cultural contexts. Finishing at the present, it covers the main factors influencing anti-vaccination as the group attempts to understand it as a historical phenomenon.
October 5, 2020
Episode 28: The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt with Michael Vann
Michael Vann (California State University, Sacramento) talks to Merle and Lee about the arrival of the Third Plague Pandemic in colonial Vietnam that led to the Great Hanoi Rat Hunt. Michael tells the amazing and amusing story of how colonial administrators put out bounties for killing rats in an effort to stop the spread of plague, and the surprising results of that approach. The story sheds light on questions of colonialism, racism, and imperialism. Michael also talks about the process of turning his academic article into a graphic history and the public outreach and responses to it.
September 25, 2020
Episode 27 - Sleeping Sickness in East Africa with Mari Webel
Mari Webel (University of Pittsburgh) discusses the impact of sleeping sickness at the turn of the 20th century in East Africa. Mari talks about the role of sleeping sickness both before and after European colonization and how this disease shaped public health more broadly. She also speaks about the experience of local inhabitants during imperial efforts to stop sleeping sickness. The conversation also covers African history, thinking about how it is taught and researched, while considering the sources that researchers use. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Robert Koch Institute, Berlin
September 17, 2020
Episode 26 - Playing Pandemic: Infectious Diseases in Games
Merle and Lee consider games that feature infectious diseases in multiple media. After a brief overview of types of games and references to games that feature infectious diseases as part of their plot, the conversation focuses on two popular and successful, yet very different pandemic games where the infectious disease pandemic is central to the game: Pandemic and Plague Inc. Pandemic is a cooperative board game in which players have to quickly find cures for a few threatening diseases while avoiding too many disease outbreaks around the world. Plague Inc is a single player video game (also an app) in which players are supposed to infect the entire world and kill all the humans in it.
September 14, 2020
Episode 25 - Germ Theory and Popular Culture with Nancy Tomes
Nancy Tomes (Stony Brook) talks to Merle and Lee about how Germ Theory was developed in the second half of the 19th century and how the public learned of it through advertising and other forms of mass media. Nancy also talks about the central role of women in this process alongside how ideas about germs changed over the 20th century. Other topics they discuss are the centrality of the AIDS pandemic to these later developments and how some of the ideas to reduce the spread of germs that seemed outlandish at the turn of the 20th century have returned with the COVID-19 pandemic.
September 3, 2020
Episode 24 - The Outbreak Narrative with Priscilla Wald
Priscilla Wald (Duke University) joins Merle and Lee to discuss the “outbreak narrative” she outlined in her influential book Contagious. After defining the outbreak narrative as a common way to understand infectious disease outbreaks, the conversation moves to examine where the outbreak narrative is used, and why has it been so popular for so long. Other topics covered include the relationship between zombie stories and the outbreak narrative, whether COVID fits the narrative, and why there are - perhaps - reasons for post-COVID optimism.
August 27, 2020
Episode 23 - Myths and Legends about the Black Death
Merle and Lee chat about four myths that have repeatedly circulated in popular media about the effects of the Black Death: it was an economic leveler that ended feudalism, it led to the Renaissance, it created modern public health, and it changed intellectual ideas about medicine. They reflect upon why these myths remain popular, since they are based upon causal ideas of history where one big event leads to another and changes the world, despite historians demonstrating their problems for decades. These myths exist across all media - this episode’s cover image, for example, is often used to accompany media coverage of the Black Death, even though it is not an image of the bubonic plague.
August 21, 2020
Episode 22 - Virology Research Developments with Vincent Racaniello
Vincent Racaniello (Columbia University) joins the podcast to discuss virology. The conversation includes trends and developments in virology over the past few decades. Vincent discusses the importance of vaccines in preventing pandemics, and offers an overview of the connections between politics, industry and research. Multiple references throughout the conversation touch upon the research, collaboration and potential effects of COVID-19. During the reflection section, Merle and Lee are joined by Infectious Historians’ new research assistant Tori Zirul, who offers her own take on the conversation with Vincent and its implications as well as on science outreach.
August 13, 2020
Episode 21 - Iran in the Age of Cholera with Amir Afkhami
Amir Afkhami (George Washington University) talks to Merle and Lee about the 19th and early 20th century outbreaks of cholera in Iran. He begins with a broad overview of recent Iranian history in the context of infectious diseases, and continues to discuss how imperialism and colonialism shaped how cholera struck Iran. Amir then shows how modern public health emerged in the country as one of the outcomes of this disease. At the end of the conversation Amir also discusses the wider context of infectious diseases in Iran, including the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and Covid-19.
August 6, 2020
Episode 20 - Archaeology and Infectious Diseases with Jordan Pickett
Jordan Pickett (University of Georgia) comes on the podcast to talk about archaeology. The first part of the interview covers archaeology, together with its different methodologies and its challenges. In the second part, Jordan suggests different ways in which archaeology might provide evidence for the effects of infectious diseases. Mass graves - in different sites - are discussed, as well as other potential indicators of infectious diseases and their effects. Additional topics include the problem of equifinality, as well as collaboration within and between disciplines. Image: View from late antique fortifications at Sardis, Western Turkey (credit: Jordan Pickett)
July 30, 2020
Episode 19 - Plague and Contagion in the Medieval Islamic World with Justin Stearns
Justin Stearns (NYU Abu Dhabi) talks to Merle and Lee about his research on contagion, disease, and plague in medieval Islamic thought. Their conversation touches upon the central role of plague to Islamic thinking, since plague struck during the early conquests and the formation of the Islamic community. Justin also highlights some similarities and differences between studying these topics in the Islamic world and Christian Europe. Finally, he reflects upon how Islamic thinking about plague has been talked about during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
July 24, 2020
Episode 18 - Medicine in the Middle East, 1830-1950 with Liat Kozma
Liat Kozma (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) speaks about medicine in the modern Middle East using a regional perspective. The conversation discusses the beginnings of modern medicine in the region, the establishment of medicine schools from Istanbul to Baghdad to Cairo, the identity and activities of the practitioners and the health contrasts between urban centers in the region and the countryside. A recurring theme is the continued interaction between the Middle East and the broader world in particular Europe, demonstrated through politics as well as scientific debates. The conversation also covers certain events such as the cholera outbreaks in the region and their context. Episode image: Qasr al-ʿAyni, Staff of the School and Hospital 1884-1898
July 16, 2020
Episode 17 - Resilience and Rebounding from Crises with John Haldon
John Haldon (Princeton University) talks to Merle and Lee about how states and societies react to systemic crises through the lens of resilience studies. After an introductory discussion about the concept of resilience, they speak about how the Byzantine Empire survived massive political, economic, and military losses during the seventh century and was able to reconfigure its governance to meet new realities. Haldon also discusses why he thinks the later sixth and seventh century outbreaks of the Justinianic Plague did not play a significant role in these changes. At the end, Haldon offers some ways resilience research might be useful for thinking about Covid-19 and how historians might help influence policy to build better societies in the future.
July 10, 2020
Episode 16 - Pandemics in Film with Robert Alpert
Robert Alpert (Fordham and Hunter College) discusses pandemics in film as a form of popular culture. After an introduction of how to analyze film and whose perspective it conveys, the conversation focuses on two films, Outbreak (1995) and Contagion (2011), and the shifting ways in which each represented its fictional pandemic. Alpert points out the differences and similarities between the movies and our contemporary experience of COVID-19, explains why zombie movies should be considered pandemic films, and explains why he believes movies should not be disregarded because they are “unrealistic”.
July 2, 2020
Episode 15 - Diseases and Native Americans from Colonial Hawaii to Covid-19 with Seth Archer
Seth Archer from Utah State sits down with Merle and Lee to talk about the diseases that passed through the Columbian Exchange and their impact on Native Americans. Archer offers a broad take on how historians have written about diseases after the colonization of North America and then turns to his area of expertise: the impact of disease on Hawaii after the voyages of James Cook. He reveals how historians of disease can move past questions of demography to investigate cultural questions. At the end, he talks to the hosts about how Covid-19 has struck Native Americans today, connecting back to earlier episodes on the role of race and economic inequality in our current pandemic.
June 26, 2020
Episode 14 - The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 with Ida Milne
Ida Milne from Carlow College joins Merle and Lee in a conversation on the 1918 influenza pandemic. Milne’s work has been instrumental in uncovering the story of the pandemic in Ireland, and she reflects on her work so far. Among the topics covered are the vexed question of origins of the 1918 pandemic, as well as the the context of Irish history that plays an important role in the way the pandemic was experienced and remembered. The discussion also touches upon Milne’s methodology that included interviews with people who lived through and remembered the pandemic, and discusses the malleable memory of the pandemic among survivors and others.
June 18, 2020
Episode 13 - Medieval Public Health with Guy Geltner and Janna Coomans
Guy Geltner and Janna Coomans from the University of Amsterdam and members of the project Premodern Healthscaping, discuss their work that offers new insights into what public health was like in medieval urban settings. They reveal a far more complex picture of how local cities practiced various types of public health. Geltner and Coomans talk about examples from Italy, the Islamicate world, and the Low Countries of how produce markets and local communities, among many others, organized and maintained sanitary standards even before the Black Death struck Eurasia. At the end, they reflect on why studying medieval urban public health can change how we think about modern public health around the globe today.
June 15, 2020
Episode 12 - Fact, Fiction, or Both? A Discourse Approach to Historical Epidemics with Chris de Wet
Chris de Wet (University of South Africa) discusses his work on discourse analysis, and how we can use it today to better our understanding of the social, cultural and psychological effects of past infectious diseases. The discussion focuses on the sixth century historian John of Ephesus, as well as on the third century bishop Cyprian. Chris, Merle and Lee reflect on the importance of discourse and how it shifts over time - whether in late antiquity or in the present with regard to COVID-19.
June 4, 2020
Episode 11 - Tuberculosis in the Ancient World
Merle and Lee speak with Julia Simons, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, about her research on tuberculosis in ancient Greece and Rome. They discuss how ancient writers talk about the disease, the material culture evidence for it, and the increasing use of bioarchaeological remains in studying it. Julia offers insights into why diseases like tuberculosis have not featured as prominently in large questions of historical changes, even though it may have killed significant numbers of people in the past and continues to kill many around the world today. Merle and Lee conclude by reflecting on disease hierarchies and how we teach diseases in courses focusing on what is included and what is left out. Image credit: Piccioli, A. et al. (2015) Bones: Orthopaedic Pathologies in Roman Imperial Age. The Italian Society of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (Springer International Publishing: pp 34-5)
May 28, 2020
Episode 10 - The Third Pandemic
Merle and Lee talk to Christos Lynteris, a medical anthropologist, on the Third Pandemic of Plague and its impact across the globe between 1894 and 1959. The pandemic is discussed in terms of its origins, spread and social, political and epistemological consequences, but also in terms of establishing the notion of the pandemic in medicine and beyond. Christos offers insights into the long-lasting legacies of the pandemic, including the development of the scientific study of zoonosis, epidemic photography, and various technologies of epidemic control.
May 21, 2020
Episode 9 - Public Health in the mid-20th Century
Merle and Lee talk to Thomas Zimmer, a scholar of global public health, on how the nations of the world developed public health after World War Two and how they attempted to stop the spread of infectious diseases. They talk about how the World Health Organization attempted to eliminate diseases, particularly malaria, and why these efforts ran into problems. Thomas offers insights into how these mid-20th century issues shape how we approach global public health today and the many problems the politicization of public health entails. Merle and Lee conclude the episode by reflecting on the importance of understanding the 20th century history of global public health for scholarship on pre-modern pandemics as well.
May 10, 2020
Episode 8 - Studying Historical Epidemics
Merle and Lee discuss how historical research is conducted today, in an episode aimed at a general audience. How do scholars decide to study a topic? What are primary and secondary sources, and how do historians use them? What are some of the other sources historians study other than texts? Throughout the episode, Merle and Lee use their own research experience as an example and reflect upon some of the challenges they encountered.
May 1, 2020
Episode 7 - Links between Environmental Justice and COVID-19
Merle and Lee discuss how the environment we live in has an impact on how the Coronavirus Pandemic spreads with Fushcia Hoover. They talk about how existing structural problems have made the pandemic worse in African-American and other communities and why simply telling people to socially isolate and behave better ignores all these issues. Fushcia also discusses some short and long term ways to solve some of these structural problems. Merle and Lee conclude the episode by reflecting on the similar points raised in the two recent episodes on inequality and environmental justice during the ongoing pandemic. Image credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
April 24, 2020
Episode 6 - COVID-19 and Inequality in the United States today
Michelle Smirnova, a sociologist (University of Missouri, Kansas City), joins Merle and Lee to discuss some of the present-day effects of COVID-19 in the US. They cover the differential effects of COVID-19 on disadvantaged populations in the US, the US health system and the administration's stance towards infectious diseases, and touch upon some of the challenges involved in providing precise statistics. Image credit: IDB
April 24, 2020
Episode 5 - The Black Death, Part 2: Central Asia
Merle and Lee talk to Phil Slavin about the evidence for the impact of the Black Death in Central Asia before it arrived more famously in Europe.
April 16, 2020
Episode 4 - The Black Death
Quarantine in many countries around the world continues, preventing many from celebrating Passover, the first of three major holidays in April (followed by Easter and Ramadan). Abigail Agresta joins Merle and Lee to discuss the most infamous pandemic in history - the Black Death. After some general background on the Black Death, Abigail discusses her own work on plague in Valencia, a topic on which she has recently published an article (link in the show notes on our website), as well as contemporary reactions to the Black Death and minority scapegoating (or lack thereof).
April 8, 2020
Episode 3 – Quarantine in the Past & Social Distancing Today
Many of us are self-isolating and social distancing at home during the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic in a modern form of quarantine. Merle and Lee speak with the leading expert on historical quarantine in the 19th century, Alex Chase-Levenson to learn how quarantine developed, how it worked, and whether it was effective. They also discuss similarities and differences between the past and the present.
April 2, 2020
Episode 2 - The Justinianic Plague
Merle and Lee discuss the late antique Justinianic Plague (c. 541-750), also known as the first plague pandemic. They cover the current consensus about plague first, and then offer their reinterpretation, together with some ideas for further research.
April 1, 2020
Episode 1 – Plagues in Human History
Merle and Lee talk about the scientific and medical background to the plague describing the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, and how it sickens and kills humans. They offer an overview of the 3 historical plague pandemics, where we can find plague today, and touch upon the obsession with plague in popular culture.
March 30, 2020
Episode 0 - Introduction
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread, in this short episode hosts Merle Eisenberg and Lee Mordechai discuss the reasons for launching a new podcast now, begin to consider how historical diseases might help us think about our present, and outline some of the upcoming podcast episodes.
March 27, 2020