History of Medicine in a COVID World


Links to resources that relate aspects of the history of medicine to the COVID-19 pandemic.


A brief history of quarantine, and what it can teach us about social distancing today

Lessons from the history of quarantine, from plague to influenza A.

by E Tognotti
Some lessons relating to quarantine that might be applied to the current pandemic
Emerg Infect Dis. 2013 Feb;19(2):254-9

Histories of epidemics in the time of COVID‐19

a special issue of the journal of the European Society for the History of Science with  15 on-line papers on topics ranging from plague in early modern Italy, bills of Mortality in London, and epidemics in China and Latin America

Centaurus Vol 62 Issue 2 (July 2020)

A face mask controversy over a century ago

Did you know… there was an anti-mask league in 1918?
This blog contains a short video.

Thackray Museum of Medicine 2020

From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the margins suffer most

A historical analysis of previous epidemics (plague, smallpox and influenza) in terms of the mortality of people  at the social margins. This has relevance to public health data from the current Covid-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Teaching Resources and Materials for Historical Research

A set of readings compiled in collaboration with the American Association for the History of Medicine  and participants in the webinar, “Pandemic, Creating a Usable Past.”

American Association for the History of Medicine 2020

Epidemics in Western Society since 1660

Frank Snowden

A free on line course with an international analysis of the impact of epidemic diseases on western society and culture from the bubonic plague to HIV/AIDS and the recent experience of SARS and swine flu. (26 lectures)

Yale University (2010)

A Brief History of Pandemics

Arpan K Banerjee

In this short paper the author describes a brief history of pandemics, from an outbreak of plague in Ancient Greece to the present-day worldwide spread of Covid-19.

History Uncut OUP (May 2020)

How to Control a Pandemic (illustrated lecture)

Professor Chris Whitty

Chris Whitty reviews the history of pandemics since Tudor times.The lecture was given a year before the arrival of Covid-19. It contains some interesting comments about the hazards to health care workers.

Gresham College lecture (October 2018)

Going Viral (podcasts)

A series of podcasts presented by Mark Honigsbaum . The earlier editions produced before the covid pandemic are remarkably  prescient and feature some interesting interviews. The later editions bring things right up to date.

Coronavirus: How they tried to curb Spanish flu pandemic in 1918

An interesting comparison of the management of the 1918 flu  with that of the current epidemic. This blog also includes some unusual photos.

BBC News  May 9th 2020

The Dangerous History of Immunoprivilege

by Kathryn Olivarius

The author discusses how acquired immunity (for yellow fever) was used as a mark of privilege and a mechanism of exploitation in the USA in the 19C.

The New York Times,  April 12 2020

How photography has shaped our experience of pandemics

Christos Lynteris
The author illustrates the role of photography in documenting pandemics from the end of the 19th century to the present.

Apollo Magazine

Coping with chronic conditions during coronavirus: A historical perspective (blog)

Amie Bolissian-Mcrae

Not everyone can afford to be anxious about Coronavirus – some are more concerned about managing their long-term ailments. Amie Bolissian-Mcrae provides a historical perspective on this tendency.

Centre for Health Humanities , University of Reading

“A very unjust affront” (blog)

Katie Birkwood

Using letters from the archives Katie Birkwood reflects on William Harvey’s discomfort at being subject to quarantine in northern Italy in 1636.

Royal College of Physicians

Working through a viral epidemic: the experience of Claire McCarthy with polio in 1955 (video)

In this new oral history video interview, Claire McCarthy, retired Director of Physical Therapy at Boston Children’s Hospital shares her experiences and insight as a healthcare worker during the 1955 polio epidemic and how it compares with the current pandemic.

Boston Children’s Hospital Archives

The Coronavirus is not the Black Death

Ken Mondschein

The author examines and debunks many of the analogies between Covid 19 and the Black Death


How Bubonic Plague Has Helped Russia Fight the Coronavirus

Andrew E Kramer

A network of health centres formed by the Soviet Union in the 1920s is providing expertise in quarantines and epidemic response for Covid-19.

New York Times

What can History tell us about Epidemics?

Can we learn from history about how diseases spread, and how we respond to them?

History Today

Coronavirus: Does my grandfather’s 1940 infectious disease advice still hold true?

Frank Gardner reflects on his grandfather’s recommendations for a sick room at home.

BBC News

The outbreak that invented intensive care

A heroic community effort at a daring hospital saved lives, led to today’s ventilators and revolutionized medicine — it holds lessons for our times.


Epidemic control in Chinese public health: past and present

Mary Brazelton,

History and Policy

Patient zero: why it’s such a toxic term

Richard McKay

Cambridge University

Ocado for all – lessons from Second World War transport logistics

As supermarkets battle with shortages and vulnerable customers suffer, there are lessons we can learn from co-operation between companies and local and national government, says Mark Roodhouse

History and Policy

Epidemics and ‘essential work’ in early modern Europe

Kevin Siena explores the redefinition of ‘essential work’ and notes that this is not the first time the economically disadvantaged have been pushed into the front line of disease

History and Policy

Blitz spirit won’t help ‘Win the Fight’ against Covid-19

The myth of the Blitz spirit could be actively dangerous, says Henry Irving – we need to define a Coronavirus spirit of our own, where engaged citizenship encourages social distancing

History and Policy

Quarantine – an early modern approach

Jane Stevens Crawshaw on early modern Italy’s experiences with quarantine – originating in Venice as a response to plague

History and Policy

Epidemic control in Chinese public health: past and present

Mary Augusta Brazelton relates the history of a public health approach that has incorporated coercion, persuasion, education – and most recently, “medical diplomacy”

History and Policy

History in a crisis: lessons for COVID-19

David S. Jones

New England Journal of Medicine

COVID-19 and the anti-lessons of history

Robert Peckham

The Lancet

The BSHM does not endorse the views of authors.