March 17, 2021 from 10am-12pm (MST)

Toward a Comparative Cultural History of Epidemics, or: What can the experience of a seventeenth-century Englishman tell us about ourselves in the age of Covid-19?

Early modern epidemics like the London plague of 1665 were of course very different from Covid-19. Death rates were much higher, and vaccines were not available, to name just the most basic differences. However, a cultural historical perspective reveals striking parallels between the experiences of Samuel Pepys, who kept a detailed diary in seventeenth-century London, and his early modern contemporaries on the one hand, and our own experiences this past year on the other. This paper asks how cultural history can contribute to an understanding of how humans and societies cope with epidemics and other catastrophic events that deeply disrupt lives.



Dr. Ute Lotz-Heumann is a German-American historian specializing in early modern Irish, German, and British history and the history of the European Reformations and Enlightenment. She is the Heiko A. Oberman Professor of Late Medieval and Reformation History at the University of Arizona.


She has published extensively in both German and English on topics relating to cultural history, the historiography of the Reformation, and the histories of both Ireland and Germany. Her most recent publication, "A Sourcebook of Early Modern European History: Life, Death, and Everything in Between" was published by Routledge in 2019.


She is the director of the Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies at the University of Arizona, and the North American managing co-editor of the Archive for Reformation History.


African-Americans have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, revealing the persistent racial disparities in American society. In my paper I will revisit a famous episode of the epidemiological and racial history of the United States, the 1794 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, then the capital of the new nation. As most whites had fled, the African American community courageously mobilized to help fight the disease in the hope of proving the respectability of their community in the eyes of diffident racist whites. As their efforts apparently backfired, furious African-American leaders penned one of the first printed protests explicitly denouncing racial prejudice. Today while the pandemic rages on, Joe Biden seems intent on tackling systemic racism in the United States. At last?



Dr. Marie-Jeanne Rossignol is Vice-President of the Institut des Hautes Études de l’Amérique Latine, Professor in North-American studies at the University of Paris (UMR LARCA).


A specialist in anti-slavery in the beginning of the United States, she manages with Claire Parfait the collection Slavery Narratives ("Récits d'esclaves") at PURH. In 2018, she edited  Undoing Slavery. American Abolitionism in Transnational Perspective 1775-1865 (Presses de l’ENS) with Michaël Roy  and Claire Parfait.


Her articles in the blog Covid in the Americas (COVIDAM):