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Plague, COVID-19 and Empire: 1720, 2020

Plague, COVID-19, and Empire: 1720, 2020


Thursday, November 12, 2020
4:00 pm


Online via Zoom

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left many scrambling for historical analogues. Historians have looked primarily to the 1918 “Spanish” Flu and even the Black Death of the 14th century for comparisons, for lessons, and for answers, as people around the globe confront the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are parallels to another, much lesser-known epidemic, one for which we mark the tricentennial this year. Historian and disaster studies specialist Cindy Ermus (UTSA) is finishing her project on the global implications of the 1720 Great Plague of Marseille (Plague of Provence), which over two years, killed as much as half the population of the city of Marseille, and 20% of the population of Provence, France. Reactions to the threat of plague from France thus stretched across Europe, as well as the colonies in the Atlantic and Asia. Ermus will reflect on the 1720 plague, and on the lessons that it can offer, as we face a new public health crisis—one that continues to unfold and yield more questions than answers.

Dr. Cindy Ermus, photo 2020Dr. Cindy Ermus is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she teaches courses on early modern Europe, the history of disasters, and the Age of Revolutions. She has published on catastrophe and crisis management in eighteenth-century Europe and the Atlantic, as well as on digital and computational history and the future of the historical profession. She is also the editor of a volume titled Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South: Two Centuries of Catastrophe, Risk and Resilience (LSU Press 2018). Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Stat News, the Miami Herald, and El Nuevo Herald, and she has been a guest on BBC World News, Univisión, Al-Jazeera, and others. Her current book project is a transnational study of the Plague of Provence of 1720 (“Great Plague of Marseille”), one of the last outbreaks of plague in Western Europe. She is also co-founder, executive editor, and contributor for the digital academic publication, Age of Revolutions (on Twitter @AgeofRevs).