The Use and Misuse of Historical Pandemics during Covid: Reflections after One Year
Virtual seminar presented by Dr. Merle Eisenberg, SESYNC
Abstract: Pandemics are increasingly used to explain historical transformations, but pandemics alone do not inevitably lead to drastic change. As the ongoing COVID pandemic has made all too clear, the impact of a pandemic is a result of a dynamic interaction between human societies and the environments they occupy. This talk will explore the ways in which historical pandemics have been used in public discussions and debates during the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Historical approaches can be grouped into roughly two types: lessons from the past to understand and mitigate the spread of the virus and attempts to forecast what might come next. Using the case studies of the Justinianic Plague (c. 540-750 CE) and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, this talk reflects upon these two types of debates over the last year. It will demonstrate how these approaches have flattened historical pandemics into a single model, while at the same time offering false hope for the future. It then suggests that due in part to this problematic historical approach we have failed to grapple with daily life during pandemics, assumed our present superiority, and aimed for resilience without acknowledging that resilience alone cannot transform existing problematic societal structures. At the end, I offer suggestions for how a human-centered approach to the study of historical pandemics may lead to better outcomes.
Bio: Merle Eisenberg is a postdoctoral fellow at SESYNC and received a PhD in history from Princeton University. He works on the first plague pandemic in history, the Justinianic Plague (c. 540-750 CE), but his interests include other pandemics and disease in history as well. He has published articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Historical Review, and Past & Present among other venues. He also co-hosts the podcast Infectious Historians, which focuses on pandemics, diseases, and medicine in history.
Living in a Changing Arctic: Implications for Barren-Ground Caribou Populations
Virtual seminar presented by Dr. Ophélie Couriot, SESYNC
Abstract: Climate is changing worldwide and even more rapidly in the Arctic than elsewhere on earth, even as human industrial developments are expanding in remote Arctic regions. In tandem with these changes, many barren-ground caribou populations—of immeasurable importance to arctic ecosystems and local human—have experienced significant declines of sometimes more than 90%. Given the key role of caribou in the Arctic, there is a great urgency in understanding drivers of change in caribou populations. However, as a long-distance migratory species, individuals experience many different events throughout the year, whether in their Boreal winter range, their Arctic breeding and summer ranges or during their migration. Thereby, quantifying the causes of population fluctuations is challenging. This talk will focus on some life history characteristics of the species, such as reproduction, survival and immigration/emigration. It will address how climate change acts on these characteristics and shapes barren-ground caribou populations in the North American Arctic.
Bio: Dr. Ophélie Couriot is a Postdoctoral Fellow at SESYNC, and her research focuses on the response of wildlife to global change. In particular, she is interested in the behavioral response of animals to human- and climate-induced changes in their environment and investigates mechanisms across several scales: from the individual to the population. At SESYNC, she is studying the effects of climate change and human development in the North American Arctic on a keystone species, the barren-ground caribou. For this project, she is mentored by Dr. Eliezer Gurarie, from the University of Maryland and the University of Madison, and Dr. William Fagan, from the University of Maryland. Before joining SESYNC, Dr. Couriot completed her PhD at the University of Toulouse (France), during which she studied the impacts of spatiotemporal variation in resource and risk distribution on movement and activity patterns of two abundant large lowland herbivores species in Europe, roe and red deer.