Updated Draft

Ok here is my slightly more written out draft. I'm still haven't written the transitions, but the bulk of the research is in there. I haven't attached the images, but their links are there.


Keeping History from Repeating Itself- What Can We Learn from Previous Pandemics?


While being quarantined in my home, my mom was cleaning out some old books from our attic when she happened to come upon a book called, “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel DeFore (Figure 1). It was a relatively new book, but was written in 1665. At the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, this seemed so ironic and almost hilarious that we should find this book. Now, as the virus has fully infiltrated our lives and changed our entire worlds, the book feels a little heavier. While thinking about what to write in this blog post, I glanced over at this book in my bedroom and thought about how there have been previous pandemics with similar issues. While time has changed drastically since the bubonic plague in the 1300s, the Great Plague of London in the 1600s (chronicled in the book I have here),  or even the Spanish Flu in the 1920s. While the world has changed drastically, there are aspects of a global pandemic that seem oddly similar. With my Midterm project, I will delve into previous plagues and our scientific understanding of this coronavirus, to see what we can learn and what we can take away to prevent the next global pandemic.


            First off, “The Journal of the Plague Year” is a compilation of memoirs, both private and public, that had been collected during the “Last Great Visitation” in 1665, in which 1/3 of the English population passed away. There are chronicles from people of all economic backgrounds and ages. And surprisingly, many of these stories sound fairly similar to some of the issues we are facing today. For instance, on just opening the book, I stumbled across an entry discussing people’s reactions to the pandemic. It quotes


 “I am speaking now of People made desperate, by the Apprehensions of their being shut up, and their breaking out by Stratagem or Force, either before or after they were shut up, whose Misery was not lessen’d when they were out, but sadly increased: On the other Hand, many that thus got away, had Retreats to go to, and other Houses, where they lock’d themselves up, and kept hid till the Plague was over; and many Families foreseeing the Approach of Distemper, laid up Stores of Provisions, sufficient for their whole Families, and shut themselves up, and that so entirely, that they were neither seen or heard of, till the Infection was quite ceased, and then came abroad Sound and Well”


This small quote here encompasses so many of the feelings and actions we are seeing today with people feeling cramped up in quarantine and deciding to go outside or not stay home, leading to further spread of the disease. Or families that truly stay at home, but do so with hoarding and stocking of food, resulting in massive amounts of food waste and not enough food for those who might need it. This chapter moves on to talk about the poorer population of England that didn’t have the fortune to stock up on food, stay at home, or travel to their “other Home” for safety. They refer to them as “such Houses in which we heard the most dismal Shrieks and Outcries of the poor People terrified, and even frightened to Death, by the Sight of the Condition of their dearest Relations, and by the Terror of being imprisoned as they were.” And obviously, not many things have changed as those that are being infected and having the highest mortality rate are those that are unable to afford proper healthcare in this country or do not have access to food and resources that others may have to survive this rough period.


While people on the news, through the media, and throughout the world are continuing to say that they have never seen anything like this before, it is true that this current world population has never seen anything like this before. However, our human history has, and it has been documented well. For my midterm project, I hope to delve deeper into the current literature, art, and pre-existing scientific knowledge we have of pathogens, pandemic spread, and human behavior to try to shed light on our current situation.



How did people understand the plague?

When the bubonic plague hit in the 14th century, many people were scared because they didn’t know what was causing the disease. Some people saw it as a punishment from God, while others believed that foreigners or those belonging to a different religion had poisoned the drinking wells. As people from other religions were thought to be the source of the bubonic plague, twenty thousand Jews were burned to death in Strasbourg. Others thought that the bad air was to blame or that the position of the planets had caused the plague. With each plague or pandemic, there is a new interest in understanding the molecular world around us and our own bodies. While technologies were still limited after the bubonic plague, the Great Plague of London in the 17th century sparked new interest in biology and ultimately helped foster the discoveries made by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who was able to observe microorganisms by microscope, Robert Hooke, who discovered the cell, Francesco Redi, who disproved the idea of spontaneous generation, William Harvey, who discovered blood circulation, and Vesalius, who pioneered research in human anatomy. As new plagues or diseases have threatened the human populations, scientists have been encouraged and inspired to understand the disease mechanism and find treatments for these diseases. For instance, when smallpox became a major disease in the mid-18th century, the first vaccine ever was created for small pox in 1798 after Edward Jenner discovered that you could make someone immune to small pox by inoculating them with cowpox. Here, during this age of the coronavirus, I hope that there can be a renewed interest in biology research, basic biology research funding, and in getting the public to have a better understanding of basic biology. A lot of the fear that has arisen in previous pandemics is due to ignorance of the underlying science. Now, in 2020, we have the tools to truly understand what the molecular basis is of the coronavirus and it’s important that the public take advantage of the hard work that scientists have put in to understanding this virus.  



-On July 27, 1377, in the Adriatic port city of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik) was the first to pass legislation regarding a mandatory quarantine of all people trying to come into the city. Its order “which stipulates that those who come from plague-infested areas shall not enter [Ragusa] or its district unless they spend a month on the islet of Mrkan or in the town of Cavtat, for the purpose of disinfenction”. Mrkan and Cavtat were an uninhabited island and port town to the south of Ragusa, respectively. Because new arrials to the city might not be currently exhibiting symptoms of the plague, they would be held in a 40 day quarantine. This quratine order was known in Italian as “trentino” and its length was derived because the number has great religious significance and symbolism. The notion of a 40-day period of purification was an important part of healthcare practices in the 14th century. For instance, pregnant mothers were expected to observe a 40-day rest. However, even with the quarantining in Ragusa, they were still hit very hard by the plague as they could not completely wall of Ragusa without destroying the economy.




While a global pandemic can change the face of science, it also changes the face of art. The bubonic plague in Europe changed art history, and our current coronavirus pandemic is likely to do the same. After the bubonic plague, art changed for many reasons. One of the largest ones is that prominent artists were not spared in the plague and the artistic loss was huge. After the loss of so many artists, their students were the ones that shaped the next century of art, especially in Italy. After the Black Death, there was a mixture of traditional art history merged with social history as artists incorporated “their fear, their sense of guilt, and the varieties of their religious responses” (Knight, 2020). The period shortly after the bubonic plague sparked the Renaissance period and in particular, the Italian Renaissance. Again, after the Great Plague of London in the 17th century, there are many aspects of this plague that was prevalent in the Romanticism period of art from 170-1850 Similarly, art after the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic was not only influenced by loss from this pandemic, but also from losses in WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII around the corner.

Now, in 2020, traditionally there are few artists that have the luxury of working full time on making art. However, with the current demands of stay at home quarantining and social distancing, many artists are suddenly having more studio time that will definitely impact current art and the art soon to come. This can easily be seen by some of the examples of art in quarantine that we have discussed in this class.



While people on the news, through the media, and throughout the world are continuing to say that they have never seen anything like this before, it is true that this current world population has never seen anything like this before. However, our human history has, and it has been documented well. While the thought of a pandemic can be scary, all of these previous plagues are optimistic stories of tremendous courage, creativity, and compassion. For my midterm project, I hope I have convinced you that our current literature, art, and scientific knowledge have all been altered and influenced by previous pandemics such as the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century, the Great Plague of London in the 17th century and the Spanish Influenza in 1920. And also, that our current coronavirus pandemic will open new doors to harness our emotions, curiosities, and experiences to push forward both the boundaries of art and science.



















De Foe book