A Bibliography of Historians' Responses to COVID-19

Scrabble board spelling out the words "Historians," "COVID," and "Pandemic"

As the novel coronavirus began to spread in the United States, people across the country turned to historians for crucial insights regarding the history of epidemics and pandemics. From the Black Death in the 14th century to the 1918 flu, historians have drawn from a wealth of historical material to illustrate the range of human, governmental, societal, and scientific responses to massive disease outbreaks over time. As the COVID-19 crisis continued to unfold, historians were quick to assess the economic, political, and social fallout from the pandemic as it took its devastating toll on American life. The American Historical Association is compiling a professionally vetted bibliography of historians’ responses to COVID-19 as a resource for the public, teachers, and scholars seeking historical perspectives on the current crisis and its local and global impacts.

The bibliography includes commentary and publications by historians in both scholarly and popular periodical literature; recorded lectures and webcasts; and digitized primary source materials from past epidemics and pandemics. In amassing these references, the AHA seeks to provide a space where anyone, regardless of expertise, can find digital historical material relevant to the COVID-19 crisis. Educators will find the bibliography especially useful as a professionally vetted index of online resources amenable to remote instruction.

Part of “Confronting a Pandemic: Historians and COVID-19,” the bibliography is funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) CARES Grant. Special thanks to the History of Science Society and the American Association for the History of Medicine for their many contributions to this bibliography project.

AHA and COVID-19

Laptop with mask, Pikist

In the wake of COVID-19's disruption to daily life in the United States, the American Historical Association responded to the pandemic's impact by advocating for historians, emphasizing the importance of historical thinking in understanding the current crisis, and urging all institutions that employ historians to be flexible and humane in considering the needs of their employees and constituencies. This section includes AHA statements on the impact of COVID-19 on historians, as well as Perspectives on History articles on topics contextualizing the pandemic.

AHA and COVID-19

Government Responses

Hong Kong plague medal, England, 1894. Science Museum, London

The entries in this section explore how diverse governments have responded to epidemic and pandemic disease outbreaks from the 14th century to the present. Most of the references focus on US governmental responses, ranging from the municipal to the federal level.  The entries collectively consider the behavior of governments during the most critical moments of disease outbreaks.

Government Responses

Public Responses and Human Experiences

Hotel employees in Conakry, Guinea after a training on Ebola, 2011. CDC Global.

The references featured here highlight people's lived experiences of epidemics and pandemics, past and present. The authors employ social and cultural analyses of disease outbreaks and their impacts on both individual people and larger social groups living within and beyond the United States.

Public Responses and Human Experiences

Medical and Scientific Responses

Technicians set up an assay test for Ebola, Fort Detrick, MD, 2000. Photo by Randal Schoepp, USAMRIID

The entries compiled here examine the medical community's efforts to cure and contain infectious diseases that have reached epidemic and pandemic proportions, beginning with the sixth century. The authors showcase the contributions of individuals and institutions in the fight against diseases outbreaks from The Plague to COVID-19.

Medical and Scientific Responses

Global and Historical Perspectives

Egyptian Plague of Boils in Toggenburg Bible, 1411. Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The references in this section consider the challenges posed by massive disease outbreaks to the discipline of history and to global inequalities over time. The authors employ broader disciplinary and global perspectives in assessing the large-scale impacts of epidemics and pandemics that transcend regions and time periods.

Global and Historical Perspectives

Race and Health

Black Lives Matter Protest, Washington, D.C., 2020. Photo by Yash Mori

This section addresses current and historical public health crises within the context of xenophobia, racism, and racial inequity. The authors address the Black Lives Matter movement, Indigenous peoples' experiences of epidemics,  and how epidemics have spurred prejudice against marginalized populations.

Race and Health

Primary Sources and Teaching Tools

 Tankard engraved with scenes of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, 1675-76, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.54

This section includes primary sources, maps, and timelines related to past epidemics that are suitable for research or classroom use.

Primary Sources and Teaching Tools