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Crowdsourced Syllabus on the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920

In the same vein as the wildly successful Humanities Coronavirus Syllabus, I’ve started a crowdsourced Syllabus on the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920.

It’s an annotated bibliography that aims to bring together books, journal and magazine articles, websites, documentaries, etc., about the experiences of the global Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920 (popularly known as the ‘Spanish flu’) from fields in the humanities, social sciences, hard sciences, and medicine in one place.

Anyone can add to it – just click on the link and get started! At the moment, edits must be done using the “add comment” function.

Links to full text PDFs would be ideal; please supply URLs or DOIs where available, especially for articles or other pieces from regional publications that may be difficult for others to locate.

I’m also looking for someone to serve as a co-editor of the hard sciences / medicine section, because I’m not as familiar with that area and those who work on it.

I’m hoping this experiment will yield some nice results! (By the way, if you haven’t checked out the Humanities Coronavirus Syllabus, you should. It’s an excellent example of the collaboration that’s taking place in scholarship right now!)

Middle East History in the Time of COVID-19

I did another thing with people who are smarter than me: a feature for Jadaliyya: Middle East History in the Time of COVID-19: A Roundtable on Disease, Environment, and Medicine.

Historians often demure when asked what concrete lessons can be drawn from the past. Meanwhile, purported irrelevance threatens the place of the humanities in higher education. That crisis of confidence, made more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic, calls for a renewed engagement with practical questions and public audiences. What lessons can be drawn from the interrelated histories of disease, environment, and medicine? This roundtable invites four scholars of Middle East history to reflect on a series of questions to illuminate the current moment–in the region and beyond–with their research.

The roundtable consists of me, Joelle Abi-Rached (Columbia), A. Tylor Brand (Trinity College, Dublin), and Seçil Yılmaz (Franklin and Marshall). Definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in the history of medicine and how it plays into environmental history.

Scholarship Online

In this age of COVID-19, one of the few bright spots has been that many academic talks and meetings have moved online, which means that anyone, anywhere can access them. Here’s some of the ones that have caught my eye!

(Yes, I’m writing this as much for me as it is for everyone else … )

Coming up on June 11, Aaron Jakes (Assistant Professor of History and Co-Director of Capitalism Studies, The New School) will be talking about “A World of Disasters: Famine, Plague, and Crisis in Global History”

The profound upheaval wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic has, understandably, invited a wide array of comparisons with past disasters. Of course, societies across the globe have grappled with unexpected, cataclysmic events throughout all of recorded history. But the character, meaning, and experience of such destructive phenomena have varied greatly across world regions and historical eras. In this talk, we will consider together how disasters might be “good to think with,” and how, more specifically, they might allow us to discern and map the movement of large-scale socio-historical transformations.


The always fabulous Nükhet Varlık, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University – Newark and the University of South Carolina, gave a talk for Harvard University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies program called “Rethinking the History of Plague in the Time of Coronavirus,” where she discussing plague in European and Ottoman historiography, questioning Eurocentric narratives and epidemiological Orientalism, and reflecting on how we can understand this history in light of the current pandemic. 

I still can’t quite believe I got to follow her in this series, talking about The ‘Spanish’ Influenza in Egypt” on May 6.


Khaled Fahmy (Cambridge) had a conversation with Mezna Qato (Cambridge) about archives and quarantines in 19th century Egypt for the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and the Humanities on May 8.


Elaine Van Dalen, Assistant Professor of Classical Islamic Studies at Columbia University, gave a talk on “Medieval Islamic Medical Perspectives on Pandemics from the Ninth to the Fourteenth Centuries” for Vanderbilt University’s Islamic Studies program.


The British Egyyptian Society hosted an online conversation called Eat Like an Egyptian! I enjoy food history a lot and can’t believe I missed this one …


I know there’s other stuff out there, so check back! I’ll keep updating.

A Tale of Two Contagions: Science, Imperialism, and the 1883 Cholera in Egypt

Proving that I can write about things other than the Spanish flu …

In the summer and fall of 1883, the newly-installed Anglo-Egyptian government faced its first public health crisis when cases of cholera were reported in the Nile Delta and rapidly spread throughout the country. The government’s response was based in part on long-standing European prejudices about the “Orient” as the origin of plague and pestilence and “Orientals” as people who did not understand health, science, or hygiene, and were unconcerned—even fatalistic—in the face of life-threatening illnesses.

To the contrary, Egypt had, over the course of the 19th century, developed a basic national health system, which had earned praise from European observers prior to the British occupation in 1882. The prejudices expressed by British occupation authorities also elides the British government’s own stance in ongoing debates among European scientists about contagion and the appropriate methods for preventing the spread of diseases like cholera.

The Anglo-Egyptian government’s response was based on imperial policies, racial prejudices, and scientific understandings that failed to adequately deal with the pandemic at the cost of 50,000 Egyptian lives.

Go read the rest at: A Tale of Two Contagions: Science, Imperialism, and the 1883 Cholera in Egypt — Islamic Law Blog