Clio and the Contemporary
College students are taking fewer history classes than ever before. The consequences have implications not just for our collective knowledge about the past, but also for our ability to make sense of the present.
In their attempts to make sense of the novel coronavirus, media outlets frequently invoke the past, comparing COVID-19 to the Black Death, the “Great Influenza” of 1918-19, and other historical disease outbreaks. The act of connecting “then” and “now” has produced two countervailing historical narratives: one that emphasizes medical progress over time, and another that highlights America’s failure to learn the lessons of past pandemics.
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