As we all shelter in place and practice social distancing, we are also moved to deepen our understanding of how COVID-19 fits into earlier pandemics in human history, and how our medical and governmental measures, social practices, coping mechanisms, ideas, and cultural productions compare with how people in other regions and times dealt with earlier pandemics.  Here CGS provides a selection of public talks by some of the most innovative historians working on plagues and pandemics.  We make no claims to a comprehensive survey, but we do aim at multiple perspectives, methodologies, geographies, and chronologies.  We also welcome any additions and suggestions by members of the CGS and UIUC community; we would happy to add to this preliminary list.  Please feel free to email Timur Pollack (



Frank M. Snowden is the Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History & History of Medicine at Yale University.  Professor Snowden received his Ph.D. from Oxford University in 1975. His books include Violence and Great Estates in the South of Italy: Apulia, 1900-1922 (1984); The Fascist Revolution in Tuscany, 1919-1922 (1989); Naples in the Times of Cholera (1995) and The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962 (2006).  Conquest was awarded the Gustav Ranis Prize from the MacMillan Center at Yale in 2007 as “the best book on an international topic by a member of the Yale Faculty,” the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize by the American Historical Association as the best work on Italy in any period, and the 2008 Welch Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine.  He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Italian history, European social and political history, and the history of medicine.

For a full list of video lectures, please see Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 with Frank Snowden. For more materials about the course, please see Yale Open Courses HIST 234.


For recent books by Professor Snowden, please see the following titles at Amazon:



Marta Hanson is an Associate Professor at the Institute for the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.  Her research focuses on Chinese science and medicine; the history of epidemics, disease, and public health in China; disease maps in East Asia; Chinese arts of memory; the healer's body in Chinese medicine; and late imperial Chinese cultural and social history.  She is the author of a pathbreaking book, Speaking of Epidemics in Chinese Medicine: Disease and the Geographic Imagination in Late Imperial China (London: Routledge Press, 2011).

For more information on Marta Hanson, please see her profile here.

The Ohio State University,  2012:

UMichigan, 2/2019: “Heaven and Earth are Within One’s Grasp”: The Healer’s Body-as-Technology in Chinese Medicine:


For recent books by Professor Hanson’s, please see the following titles at Amazon:



Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., is a Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow.  He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard and has done pathbreaking research on the epidemiology of the Black Death, particularly in his controversial The Black Death Transformed (Oxford University Press, 2002).  In his other works, he has traced the multifaceted social and cultural consequences of medieval and early modern plagues, particularly in Italy.  His more recent work has been increasingly pan-European and global in scope and traces changes over very broad chronologies, particularly in his most recent book, Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS.

For more information on Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., please see his profile here.

BBC4, In Our Time podcast on Black Death:

UMaryland, 2013: Anti-Jewish Violence in the Wake of the Plague:

UC Berkeley, 2017:  “The Emotional Lives of Epidemics”:


For a selection of Professor Cohn’s work on plagues and their consequences, please see the following titles on Amazon:



Professor Elizabeth A. Fenn is the Walter and Lucienne Driskill Professor of Western American History at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Her field of study is the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history.  Her 2001 book Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, unearthed the devastating effects of a smallpox epidemic that coursed across the North American continent during the years of the American Revolution.  In 2014, Fenn published Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People, which analyzes Mandan Indian history from 1100 to 1845.  Fenn is now at work on an expansive biography of Sacagawea, using her life story to illuminate the wider history of the northern plains and Rockies.  Fenn is also the co-author, with Peter H. Wood, of Natives and Newcomers: The Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770, a popular history of early North Carolina which appeared in 1983.  In April 2015, she was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History for her book,  “Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People.”   On September 14, 2018, Prof. Fenn was designated a Distinguished Professor by the Regents of the University of Colorado, one of the highest honors awarded to faculty.

For more information on Elizabeth A. Fenn, please see her profile here.


For recent books by Professor Elizabeth A. Fenn, please see the following titles at Amazon:



John M. Barry is a prize-winning and New York Times best-selling author. The National Academies of Sciences named his 2004 book The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, a study of the 1918 pandemic, the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine. His earlier book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, won the Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians for the year’s best book of American history.

For more information on John M. Barry, please see his profile here.

At Virginia Museum of History & Culture, 7/2018:

“At” the Library of Congress, 4/2020, “The Great Influenza” John M. Barry in conversation with David Rubenstein:

At New York Academy of Medicine, 10/2018:


For John M. Barry’s bestselling study of the influenza of 1918-19, please see the following title on Amazon:



Nancy Bristow is the Professor of History at the University of Puget Sound and holds a Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley.  She has been an author of numerous works on American history, most recently American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic (Oxford University Press, 2012) and the forthcoming Steeped in the Blood of Racism:  Black Power, Law, and Order and the 1970 Shootings at Jackson State College (Oxford University Press, forthcoming May 2020).  Professor Bristow teaches twentieth-century American history, with an emphasis on race, gender, and social change. Initially a student of progressivism and the First World War, she continues to pursue her interest in social cataclysm.

For more information on Nancy Bristow, please see her profile here.

Forgetting Catastrophe: Influenza and the War in 1919 … : NOVEMBER 1, 2019 | PART OF NATIONAL WORLD WAR I MUSEUM SYMPOSIUM:


For Professor Bristow book on the influenza of 1918-19, please see the following title on Amazon:



Professor Remi Chiu is a musicologist specializing in Renaissance music and the history of medicine. He is the author of Plague and Music in the Renaissance, which examines the role of music and music-making in the medical, spiritual, and civic strategies for combating pestilence. His research into the music of past epidemics has yielded some unexpected insights into music-making under COVID-19, some of which have been featured in the press. Dr. Chiu’s latest research focuses on the role of music in popular (quasi-) scientific entertainments at the turn of the twentieth century, such as the medicine show and the freakshow.

For more information on Remi Chiu, please see his profile here.

He was recently interviewed for the Guardian’s article, “Stayin’ alive! How music has fought pandemics for 2,700 years.”

You can find a recent interview with Dr. Chiu gave to NPR regarding music, the plague, and their relationship to coronavirus here.