How Pandemics Change History

How Pandemics Change History

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  • Analytical
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


Each epidemic is unique in how society regards it. The public saw the black plague as egalitarian, yet it perceived TB as a disease of the elite and artistic. In time, COVID-19 will have its own place in history. The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner interviews medical historian and author Frank M. Snowden, who reflects on governmental and global organizational actions over the past several months. The current pandemic, Snowden says, offers humanity the opportunity to unite. In history, epidemics affected art, politics and religion. How will this pandemic change today's society?


Understanding diseases provides insight into politics and class structures.

Against the backdrop of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Yale professor emeritus and medical historian Frank M. Snowden, author of Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present, discusses diseases and epidemics through history. He reflects on how the plague, yellow fever and tuberculosis (TB) affected society, art and politics. And, he considers the initial reaction to COVID-19.

Major onslaughts of disease reveal fundamental aspects of individual and societal thinking because widespread disease makes people consider their mortality. Pandemics highlight humankind’s connection to nature and the man-made environment. The COVID-19 pandemic forces people to realize that everyone worldwide is part of the same species and equally susceptible to disease.

Snowden believes that by killing “half the population of full continents,” the bubonic plague drastically changed the world economy and people’s perception of God. He believes the results of those changes manifested in the Industrial Revolution and ...

About the Author

Isaac Chotiner writes interviews for The New Yorker. His work has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Frank M. Snowden is the author of Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present

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