Plagues in History: Activity for Online Teaching

Plagues in History: Activity for Online Teaching

This activity has been designed to fit a 30-45-minute slot for your class.

It can be used by any teacher and educator and is suitable for online teaching.

Included in this pack:

  • Vocabulary exercise
  • Text comprehension questions
  • Compare and contrast ancient and medieval plagues to the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Optional project to create an awareness and prevention guide.

A video on Plagues and Pandemics in the Ancient and Medieval World is also available.

We hope it will help your students grasp the seriousness of the Coronavirus situation and better understand their civic responsibilities in response to it.


Teacher's Guides

This Teacher's Guide discusses the development of the environmental humanities field and explains how environmental studies intersects with history, literature, art, and civics.

Landmarks of American History and Culture

This Teacher's Guide includes place-based history resources and activity ideas to help students recognize the value of studying historic and cultural sites across the United States.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage and History in the U.S.

This Teacher’s Guide offers a collection of lessons and resources for K-12 social studies, literature, and arts classrooms that center around the experiences, achievements, and perspectives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across U.S. history.

Using Primary Sources in Digital and Live Archives

Archival visits, whether in person or online, are great additions to any curriculum in the humanities. Primary sources can be the cornerstone of lessons or activities involving any aspect of history, ancient or modern. This Teachers Guide is designed to help educators plan, execute, and follow up on an encounter with sources housed in a variety of institutions, from libraries and museums to historical societies and state archives to make learning come to life and teach students the value of preservation and conservation in the humanities.

Digital Humanities and Online Education

The National Endowment for the Humanities has compiled a collection of digital resources for K-12 and higher education instructors who teach in an online setting. The resources included in this Teacher's Guide range from videos and podcasts to digitized primary sources and interactive activities and games that have received funding from the NEH, as well as resources for online instruction.

A More Perfect Union

This Teacher's Guide compiles EDSITEment resources that support the NEH's "A More Perfect Union" initiative, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Topics include literature, history, civics, art, and culture.

Spanish Language Learning Resources

This Teachers Guide compiles resources for teaching Spanish to students of varying proficiency levels, including heritage learners.

African American History and Culture in the United States

Our Teacher's Guide offers a collection of lessons and resources for K-12 social studies, literature, and arts classrooms that center around the achievements, perspectives, and experiences of African Americans across U.S. history.

American Indian History and Heritage

This Teacher's Guide will introduce you to the cultures and explore the histories of some groups within the over 5 million people who identify as American Indian in the United States, with resources designed for integration across humanities curricula and classrooms throughout the school year.


Timeline

Plague of Cyprian, 250-270 CESt. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage ( 200-258 CE)

The Plague of Cyprian erupted in Ethiopia around Easter of 250 CE. It reached Rome in the following year eventually spreading to Greece and further east to Syria. The plague lasted nearly 20 years and, at its height, reportedly killed as many as 5,000 people per day in Rome. Contributing to the rapid spread of sickness and death was the constant warfare confronting the empire due to a series of attacks on the frontiers: Germanic tribes invading Gaul and Parthians attacking Mesopotamia. Periods of drought, floods and famine exhausted the populations while the emperorship was rocked with turmoil. St. Cyprian bishop of Carthage, remarked that it appeared as if the world was at an end. The outbreak was named after Cyprian as his first-hand observations of the illness largely form the basis for what the world would come to know about the crisis. He wrote about the incident in stark detail in his work De Mortalitate (&ldquoOn Mortality&rdquo).

Plague of Cyprian, 250-270 CEDionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 265 CE)

Dionysius, during the second great epidemic around 260 CE, [writes]: &ldquoMost of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another&hellip nursing and curing others.&rdquo Later in the letter, he described that those without this kind of care fared much worst. He writes that, &ldquoat the first onset of the disease, [the healthy] pushed the sick away and fled from their dearest&helliphoping to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.&rdquo

The Black Death, Italy, 1348Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Catherine of Siena was born in 1347. That year, according to writer Charles L. Mee, Jr., &ldquoin all likelihood, a flea riding on the hide of a black rat entered the Italian port of Messina.&hellip The flea had a gut full of the bacillus Yersinia pestis .&rdquo With that rat, flea, and bacillus, came the most feared plague on record. In just three years, 1348 to 1350, the Black Death killed more than one-third of the entire population between Iceland and India. Remarkably, the young Catherine survived the onslaught. Catherine of Siena lived&mdashand helped others&mdashduring the most devastating plague in human history.

The Black Death, England, 1348Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

Julian of Norwich lived in a tumultuous time, the Black Death was raging in Europe. The first such plague occurred when she was only six years old. The road beside Saint Julian's Church was used to remove the bodies of the dead from subsequent plagues, and she probably heard the carts rumble by. The Hundred Years' War between England and France had begun in 1337, as did the papal schism in which two popes each suspected the other of being the Antichrist. Famine and cattle disease contributed to the forces that caused the Peasants' Revolt, and John Wycliff and his followers, the Lollards, were declared heretics. Some were burned and buried near Julian's church cell. She must have been aware of the suffering of the time. In such tumultuous time, Julian saw visions from God and recorded them as his message to her fellow Christians.

Zwingli was on a mineral-springs vacation in August, 1519, when the Black Death broke out in Zurich. Though weak already from exhausting work, he hurried back to his city to minister to victims. Before long he himself caught the disease and seemed likely to perish. But his work not yet done Zwingli recovered. His famous &ldquoplague hymn&rdquo recounts his sense of trust and then his joy at regaining health.

The Black Death, Wittenberg, 1527Martin Luther (1483-1546)

In August of 1527 the plague struck Wittenberg and numerous people fled in fear of their lives. Martin Luther and his wife Katharina, who was pregnant at the time, remained in their beloved city in order to treat the infected. Despite the calls for him to flee Wittenberg with his family, Luther&rsquos mind was set on helping the infected. He inevitably came to the conclusion that it was not inherently wrong for one to so value their life that they did not remain, but only so long as the sick had someone of greater faith than they to care for them.

During this time of immense challenge and uncertainty, Luther wrote a letter to Johann Hess and his fellow Christians in Breslau, titled "Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague." Visit here to view the full translation of the letter.

The Black Death, Geneva, 1542John Calvin (1509-1564)

During Calvin&rsquos ministry, Geneva was terrorized by the plague on five occasions. During the first outbreak, in 1542, Calvin personally led visitations into plague-infected homes. Knowing that this effort likely carried a death sentence, the city fathers intervened to stop him because of their conviction that his leadership was indispensable. The pastors continued this heroic effort under Calvin&rsquos guidance, and they recounted the joy of multiple conversions. Many pastors lost their lives in this cause. Unknown to many, Calvin privately continued his own pastoral care in Geneva and other cities where the plague raged.

Smallpox Epidemic, Princeton, New Jersey, 1758Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Jonathan Edwards, among his first acts as President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton), preached a New Year&rsquos Sermon in 1758 on Jeremiah 28:16 ("This year thou shalt die"), while Princeton, New Jersey was in the midst of a smallpox epidemic. He later received an inoculation, which led to his death two months later. Once Edwards had spoken in his sermon titled, "The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It" (1734): "Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance. We know that it is very short, but we know not how short. "

Cholera, London, 1854Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892)

As a young village preacher, Charles Spurgeon admired the Puritan ministers who stayed behind to care for the sick and dying during the Great Plague of London in 1665. In [the] fall [of] 1854, the newly called pastor of London&rsquos New Park Street Chapel pastored the congregation amid a major cholera outbreak in the Broad Street neighborhood just across the river. How did Spurgeon respond? 1) He prioritized local ministry. 2) He adjusted his meetings, but continued meeting. 3) He cared for the sick. 4) He was open to new evangelistic opportunities. 5) He entrusted his life to God.

For the autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon, visit this website.

The Flu Epidemic in 1918-1919Christian Reformed Church in North America

During this epidemic in which the state prohibited social and religious gatherings, Christian Reformed Church's magazine The Banner called its readers to &ldquopray earnestly that the scourge may soon be removed&rdquo so that churches could reopen. It also suggested &ldquolessons from this appointment of Providence&rdquo to learn:

  • &ldquothe value of our church privileges,&rdquo as we really understand what blessing they are when they are withheld,
  • &ldquothe value of fellowshipping with God&rsquos people,&rdquo &ldquothe communion of the saints,&rdquo which might lead to a renewal of devotion in the church, and
  • &ldquoto appreciate religious literature more than we have done,&rdquo as that is what people turn when they cannot come to church.

Mass Hysteria regarding the Threat of Nuclear WarC. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

In 1948, C. S. Lewis. wrote an essay titled, "On Living in an Atomic Age." In it, he talks about the anxiety that the majority of people in his day had regarding the threat of nuclear war. It was a serious, legitimate concern [in his time]. Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents." In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things&mdashpraying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts&mdashnot huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Ebola, 2015Orthodox Church of Sierra Leone

During the global outbreak of Ebola in 2015, Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos was among his people in Sierra Leon, a epicenter of the outbreak. In this report he writes: "People from abroad constantly call me and ask me: 'Father, why don&rsquot you leave and save yourself from a potential infection and even death?' The answer is very simple. For the present time God has placed me here in West Africa. As the shepherd of the flock in Sierra Leone, it is my duty to stay with them, to care for them, to instruct them, to console them, to guide them and to protect them from an evil that kills without pity. Furthermore our Lord Jesus Christ instructs the Christian shepherd not to abandon the sheep when danger comes. It is only the hireling who abandons the sheep in moments of crisis (John 10:12-13). We are relying on Christ&rsquos protection.

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COVID-19 impact: The history of plague and contagion

As the coronavirus threatens health and upends daily life throughout the world, UofSC Today is turning to our faculty to help us make sense of it all. While no one can predict exactly what will happen in the coming weeks and months, our faculty can help us ask the right questions and put important context around emerging events.

Nükhet Varlik, an associate professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences at UofSC, studies disease, medicine and public health, particularly in the era of the Ottoman Empire. She has written a book and edited another on plague and contagion in the Mediterranean world.

Banner image above: Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Turkish Funeral from the frieze Ces Moeurs et fachons de faire de Turcz (Customs and Fashions of the Turks), 1553. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928.

Given what you understand of the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, how does the current societal response compare with that of previous disease outbreaks in human history?

We have watched in fear the videos of people collapsing to the ground, hazmat-suited medics carrying patients. But we’ve also taken heart at seeing doctors and nurses fighting to save lives, the way people are singing songs and dancing from their windows and balconies to keep their community morale high. These are images that have already shaped how we think about the current pandemic. But social responses to epidemics and pandemics can take many forms, both now and in the past, depending on where the outbreak is experienced, how fast the infection spreads, how deadly the disease is and other such factors. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that every epidemic or pandemic has its own character. COVID-19 has its unique personality: We may perhaps think of it as an “anti-social” virus because of the mandate for social distancing.

Perhaps what we will best remember COVID-19 for is the panic-buying of toilet paper and hand sanitizers to the stockpiling of guns.

— Nükhet Varlik

There are other ways the biology of a virus can shape social responses. Diseases with higher rates of mortality and those that kill their victims quickly seem to be more conducive to mass hysteria, social unrest and riots. For example, 19th-century outbreaks of cholera, plague and smallpox, with much higher rates of mortality and quick and gruesome death, stirred up many such riots. Global case fatality rates of COVID-19 are currently estimated at 3 to 4 percent, which suggest that it is unlikely to lead to such massive social unrest, though it helps to remember that we’ve already seen cases of unrest in prisons in Italy, Lebanon and Jordan. Let’s also remember that COVID-19 does not kill indiscriminately it seems to have a preference for older and feebler individuals, which suggests that it will probably not provoke any such mass movements.

There are also age-old forms of social responses that can appear in any society facing a serious pandemic, independent of social and cultural factors. The broad spectrum of human responses to pandemics includes denial, panic, flight, scapegoating, racism, xenophobia, spreading of false rumors, misinformation, price gouging, profiteering and other opportunistic behaviors (such as promoting false medical recipes for profit), business closing, and even abandoning the sick to die alone — but also empathy, altruism, caring, and helping others. Even though we see examples of these behaviors here and there, perhaps what we will best remember COVID-19 for is the panic-buying of toilet paper and hand sanitizers to the stockpiling of guns, along with people wearing masks and protective outerwear for self-protection. In addition, we can also mention the imposition of travel bans, curfews, isolation and quarantines that turn cities into ghost towns. So this virus in particular has not only major social and economic implications, but also personal ones, since it can exacerbate existing mental health issues or feelings of isolation and loneliness in individuals as well.

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, there were instances of racism directed toward Asians, perhaps because China was ground zero of the virus. How has racism been a factor in other disease outbreaks in history?

In Europe, many countries blamed Jews for spreading the Black Death during the 14th century, and the persecution of Jews, lepers, Romani and other marglnalized groups ensued.

Racism, xenophobia and scapegoating certain groups of people are communal behaviors that surface during disease outbreaks, past and present. Perhaps the most infamous example of this comes from the 14th-century Black Death, a pandemic of plague that killed at least 30 to 50 percent of the human population across Afro-Eurasia (the eastern hemisphere) — when Jewish communities in Europe were made scapegoats of the plague. They were accused of deliberately poisoning wells and thus causing the plague, and such associations between plague and Jewish communities led to pogroms in various parts of Europe. Notably, these anti-Semitic discourses in the context of plague seem to have been unique to Europe.

Similarly, western Europeans also held firm to the belief for many centuries that plague came to Europe from Muslim areas in the Middle East and North Africa (they even had a name for it: “Oriental plague” or “Levant plague” — referring to the eastern Mediterranean region). What it meant in practice is that the way western Europeans thought about the plague as something that always comes to them from the “Orient,” and imagining the region and its people as breeding disease, meant that they blamed the Muslim population of the region for being filthy, ignorant, fatalistic and incompetent, and thus disease spreaders. These discourses, both popular and scientific, shaped the perception of how societies understood disease and responded to it for at least the past 600 years. They are not only dangerous for the present (because it informs policy and response), but also for the future, because it leaves a legacy behind.

What kind of a legacy do we want to leave behind for future generations? We are not only giving them more environmental disasters, climate changes and pandemics, but also leaving behind a dirty legacy of xenophobia and racism in the face of natural phenomena that we are all responsible for globally, and which do nothing to actually address the problem, since xenophobic discourses currently seem to be trumping scientifically informed responses.

Medicine has advanced significantly in the past 100 years, but medical advice for limiting the spread of disease seems to have largely stayed the same. What is the historical perspective on this?

This is absolutely true. The core medical advice for staying healthy in times of epidemics has been relatively stable for at least the past 2,000 years — if not more. Throughout the course of medical history, we see that physicians stressed the importance of preserving health and restoring the balance of humors during disease outbreaks. Often, they recommended eating a well-balanced diet, regular bleeding and purging, and moderation in physical exercise, sexual intercourse, sleep and emotional dispositions. In addition, a multitude of treatments and recipes for epidemic diseases can be found in medical books, such as theriacs, terra sigillata (“sealed earth”) and bezoar stone. People also resorted to astrology, alchemy and other occult sciences and practices for protection and cure prayers, amulets, talismans, incorporating both pious incantations and mathematical technologies, were especially popular.

The core medical advice for staying healthy in times of epidemics has been relatively stable for at least the past 2,000 years — if not more.

Nükhet Varlik

Based on the prevailing medical understanding that the health of the human body (microcosmos) was conceived broadly within the general environment (macrocosmos), it was believed that one could not be healthy if s/he lived in an unhealthy environment. For this reason, premodern medical advice emphasized three essential elements: clear air, clean water and clean souls. Living in a place with clean air was deemed especially important because it was believed that swamps, dead bodies and corrupting matter could release miasma into the air that contaminated it and caused disease when breathed. Therefore, we see medical advice for either leaving infected places for healthier areas or taking active steps to clean the air, by means of fumigation, removing businesses, such as tanneries and slaughterhouses outside city walls, opening new cemeteries for those who died of epidemic diseases and following different burial protocols: graveyards were to be further away from cities so as not to contaminate the air, opening deeper graves, use of quicklime to cover gravesites, etc.

It would be helpful to remember that the bacteriological revolution (the idea that specific diseases were caused by invisible germs) is only 120-130 years old, and before this time, epidemic diseases were often associated with bad smells and fetid air. Similarly, clean air, water and food were considered crucial for the preservation of health during epidemics. Consuming sour fruits and their juices and generally acidic foods, as well as garlic and vinegar, was considered ideal. And chicken soup was an all-time favorite recipe during such times. The advice was to eat well, but not too much. In addition, one had to sleep well and exercise, but only in moderation. Some physicians recommended avoiding bathing during disease outbreaks, because they believed that it opened the pores on the skin and left the body more vulnerable to disease. Moreover, there were recommendations to behave morally, avoiding sin and maintaining balanced emotions.

Putting all this into historical perspective: Despite all the modern medical advances, when we are faced with a new infectious disease with no known treatment, no vaccine and no pre-existing immunity, the medical advice is not significantly different from that of the past.

With your long-term perspective on global disease outbreaks, what factors in the current pandemic are you most paying attention to?

A depiction of a crowded cemetery in London after the Black Death during the mid-14th century.

As a historian of plague, I am deeply immersed in the study of all aspects of epidemic diseases, both in the past and today. I have been paying close attention to the coronavirus outbreak since its very early days in Wuhan, especially because there were a few cases of human pnuemonic plague in China late last year, and I had been watching disease notifications from the International Society for Infectious Diseases for that area very closely at that time. Coronavirus outbreak started as a cluster of pneumonia cases and suspicions about a mysterious disease, but numbers started to increase quickly. Soon after that, Chinese scientists identified the disease pathogen and shared their genome sequencing with the global scientific community. In the meantime, CDC, WHO and Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus database offered updated number of cases and information as the virus started to spread globally. All this information came in extremely handy because I am teaching a course on Plagues and Societies in World History this semester, and I had several opportunities to discuss the current pandemic — which I announced as such weeks ago, but only declared to be one by WHO last week — with my students and compare it to other pandemics in history.

Both plague and COVID-19, like many other infectious diseases, have zoonotic origins, i.e., they are transmitted from wild animals to humans. While in the case of plague, the animal host is often rodents (rats, gerbils, marmots, prairie dogs, etc.), in coronavirus, it is mostly likely bats. Unlike COVID-19, plague is a bacterial infection caused by Yersinia pestis, and has very different mechanisms of transmission. Yet following the current pandemic, tracking its global spread, and reading about the experiences of those affected has been extremely valuable for me, prompting me to re-evaluate historical plague pandemics. In particular, I have been paying close attention to the spread of the infection and the way the virus establishes itself in different localities to cause community spread, especially because this can give us clues about the behavior of pathogens during their silent, slow, invisible phases.

Even though these mechanisms are different from those of plague, I find it helpful to examine those to better understand how I can listen to my historical sources to find clues about that invisible phase. So, in this sense, studying the spread and rhythms of the coronavirus pandemic helps me understand plague better. I find it equally interesting to track the behavior of the virus (its speed of transmission, patterns of epidemiological spread, mortality, etc.) in different contexts to better understand the complex dynamics between pathogens and human societies.

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Archiving a Plague Year

A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19 (JOTPY) is a crowdsourced digital public archive chronicling daily life during pestilential chaos. The archive&rsquos title nods to Daniel Defoe&rsquos account of London&rsquos Great Plague, and, like Defoe&rsquos book, covers the pandemic experience&mdashlarge and small. What do we accept? Whatever people find important about this moment. As a result, our archive is filled with items from around the world, from images of graduation chairs in empty gymnasiums, to reports about Indigenous health and food crises, to an exhausted Peruvian police officer collapsing outside a hospital.

JOTPY facilitates public catharsis and community building through the sharing of everyday and ordinary experiences. Caitlin Brady/JOTPY

Founded in March by Arizona State University professors Catherine O&rsquoDonnell and Mark Tebeau, JOTPY has grown to nearly 5,000 items in just two months. The archive&rsquos curatorial collective has also expanded quickly, with more than 150 archivists, graduate students, K-12 teachers, professors, and programmers now shaping the project. The archive and its global team operate on the model of &ldquoshared authority,&rdquo inviting public collaboration and flattening traditional academic hierarchies.

Our collecting began as a 100-meter dash but it&rsquos become a marathon.

Whereas Defoe assembled his narrative of plague-ridden London some 57 years after the event, JOTPY is collecting stories of COVID-19 as they unfold&mdashwhat archivists, public historians, and curators call &ldquorapid-response&rdquo collecting. Other public digital archives, most notably the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, have set the precedent for this kind of collecting, with historians and archivists sprinting to gather evidence of a tragedy in a single place. But COVID-19&rsquos all-the-time, everywhere nature has forced us to redefine &ldquorapid response.&rdquo Our collecting began as a 100-meter dash but it&rsquos become a marathon.

JOTPY chronicles prevailing attitudes, including racism against Asians and Asian Americans. Cross-stitch by Shannon &ldquoBadass Cross Stitch&rdquo Downey. Kevin Sichanh/JOTPY

Playing the long game has given us more time to think about how to build an archive that will be useful decades down the line. For example, we spent the last two months deciding on broad yet relevant subject headings based on our collections but also agreed to include folksonomic tagging, allowing users to define relevant terms. We ensure consistency with &ldquoofficial&rdquo subject categories and curatorial tags, while simultaneously empowering the public to create their own vocabulary. The result is a living, breathing archival language that changes and adapts with our user base. We imagine that future researchers will find the language shifts in our archive a fascinating way to study the long-term developments of the pandemic, but they can do that only if we build the capacity for that type of research now.

JOTPY captures fleeting moments that reveal the social changes wrought by COVID-19. Here, 2020 graduates at Logan-Magnolia School (Logan, Iowa) practice for graduation. Ben Tompkins/JOTPY

The pandemic&rsquos slow roll opens other collecting possibilities. We&rsquove been able to plan out a series of longitudinal oral histories so future researchers can understand how one person&rsquos account of the impact of coronavirus changes over six months, a year, or five years. We also hope longitudinal collections of digital ephemera will reveal shifting public preoccupations and trends. Our first waves of contributions recorded empty toilet paper shelves and PPE, whereas contributions now capture graduation celebrations and reopening procedures. What will the iconic coronavirus image be in the fall? In 2022? In 2025?

The ongoing nature of our collecting work has also enabled us to think critically about structural inequities and digital divides. Over the last several years, historians and archivists have worked to address digital and physical archival silences, cultivating face-to-face relationships and building long-term trust with underrepresented communities. The pandemic has strained these efforts. Indigenous, African American, and Latinx communities have been and continue to be especially hard-hit by the virus. Longtime community partners now face furloughs and empty grant coffers, and casual community events that might have led to new partnerships have been canceled. Historians and archivists face an ethical quandary as a result. It is insensitive to ask suffering strangers to spend their time and emotional resources contributing to an archive. It&rsquos also wrong not to try.

JOTPY highlights ongoing silences and the challenging imperative to correct them. The workers hosting a socially distanced press conference here are from the New Orleans City Waste Union. Peter Gustafson/JOTPY

Traditionally marginalized communities aren&rsquot the only ones whose experiences may be left out in the archival cold. Many elderly communities have now found themselves thrust into a temporarily marginalized status as a result of the pandemic. Older folks whose work and social lives are not conducted primarily online have now become invisible in this all-digital world of collecting. Our informal acquisition policy of &ldquoanything you define as important&rdquo is broad and inviting, but only for those with the technology to contribute.

JOTPY offers a rare opportunity for both students and instructors to analyze how the historical record is formed while helping to shape it themselves.

To mitigate these silences and increase JOTPY&rsquos collections, we are leaning heavily on pedagogy. While universities and colleges tend to skew young, white, and middle class, students can actively work to overcome archival silences and build students&rsquo civic character in the process by connecting with their local communities. Instructors can use the archive to teach students fundamentals about history in action, information architecture, metadata, and the politics of archives. Students have also seized on the resume building elements of the project, the real-life skills like digital literacy and networking. Working with the JOTPY archive, students have the opportunity to further flatten traditional hierarchies by sharing authority with professional archivists and taking on important leadership positions with guidance from professionals in the field.

Poster encouraging hand-washing in order to protect Diné elders by artist Dale Deforest (Diné/Navajo). Denise Bates/JOTPY

We invite you to browse our archive. Share your own story. Take a picture of your neighborhood. Record a short video about your quarantine experience or about the transition to our new &ldquonormal.&rdquo Email us if you&rsquod like to join the curatorial collective or find out more about what we&rsquore doing.

We also invite you to teach the archive. JOTPY offers a rare opportunity for both students and instructors to analyze how the historical record is formed while helping to shape it themselves. Students will be engaged in relevant, important, purposeful work that will define how we remember and understand this moment. In our attempt to lower the bar of entry, the JOTPY team is currently developing modules for educators at all levels to adapt, remix, and reuse during classes this summer and in the coming school year. These are pending, so check back often or inquire with us about new resources.

Tom Beazley is a graduate student of history at Arizona State University. Victoria Cain is an associate professor of history at Northeastern University. Rebecca S. Wingo is an assistant professor of history and director of public history at the University of Cincinnati. She tweets @rebeccawingo.

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The American Historical Association welcomes comments in the discussion area below, at AHA Communities, and in letters to the editor. Please read our commenting and letters policy before submitting.


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Volcanic Eruption

This theory argues that the plagues were really the fallout of volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini in the south of Greece around 1620-1600 BCE. Microbiologist Siro Trevisanato, author of The Plagues of Egypt: Archaeology, History and Science Look at the Bible, argues that ancient Egyptian medical texts support this idea.

Winds would have carried the volcanic ash to Egypt at some point over the summer, and the toxic acids in the volcanic ash would have included the mineral cinnabar, which could have been capable of turning a river a blood-like red color, Trevisanato holds. The accumulated acidity in the water would have caused frogs to leap out and search for clean water. Insects would have burrowed eggs in the bodies of dead animals and human survivors, which generated larvae and then adult insects. Then, the volcanic ash in the atmosphere would have affected the weather, with acid rain landing on people’s skin, which in turn caused boils. The grass would have been contaminated, poisoning the animals that ate it. The humidity from the rain and the subsequent hail would have created optimal conditions for locusts to thrive. Volcanic eruptions could also explain the several days of darkness &mdash which means nine plagues are accounted for.

Trevisanato also found an ancient Egyptian account of the children of aristocrats lying dead in public and archaeological data matching the account. He believes that, amid all this destruction, firstborn children could have been sacrificed out of desperation, in the hopes that such a meaningful sacrifice would lead their gods to stop punishing them.


Teaching Units: Organization and Index

This model curriculum groups instructional units into three categories. The criterion for these categories is the scale in time, geographical space, and subject matter of the topics to be explored. This system has been designed to guide teachers and students in the study of the past on a variety of scales, from broad, global changes to developments that occurred within regions, civilizations, or nations. Teachers may choose to introduce students to an entire Big Era in a few class periods by focusing on the sweeping changes of the era. Or, they may devote a greater number of class days to an era, using several teaching units in all three categories of scale to examine the era in finer detail. Teachers may tailor class time spent on a Big Era to their pedagogical strengths and interests and to state or local content standards.. THIS IS A TEST, THIS IS A TEST. For more discussion of scale in history, see Why an Integrative World History Curriculum in the Foundations of This Curriculum section.

All teaching units follow standard specifications for organization and design. They are listed and described below, as well as in the History, Geography, and Time, Big Eras 1-9, and Past and Future sections of the curriculum. All teaching units have been formatted in PDF to facilitate printing and duplicating of materials, especially Student Handouts. Users must download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader to have access to the teaching units.

Panorama Teaching Units

Each of the nine Big Eras of world history, plus the History, Geography, and Time and the Past and Future sections, offers one Panorama Teaching Unit. Panorama units address very large-scale developments in world history. Each one also includes a PowerPoint Overview Presentation. Teachers and students may view the overview presentations in HTML or download them into their own PowerPoint programs.

The Panorama units provide a model for teaching an entire era of world history in a few lessons taking no more than a week or two of class time. In this way, students may learn about large patterns of change in an era. Panorama units also serve teachers who wish, or are obligated by local and state standards, to devote more class time to particular eras than to others. The Panorama Teaching Units are tailored to the time frames of the Big Era units. This means that the unit for Big Era One (13 billion - 200,000 years ago) encompasses a much larger time frame than does the unit for Big Era Nine (1945 - present).

Landscape Teaching Units

Each Big Era, plus the History, Geography, and Time and the Past and Future sections, offers from two to seven Landscape Teaching Units. Landscape units focus on relatively large-scale developments in world history, though not as broad in subject matter as the Panorama units. All Landscape units have transregional, cross-cultural, or comparative elements. Teachers may use Landscape units flexibly, depending on their interests, school curriculum requirements, and instructional time available.

Closeup Teaching Units

Multiple Closeup Teaching Units will be developed for each of the Big Eras. Closeup units address topics in world history that are relatively more restricted in time, space, and subject matter than either Panorama or Landscape units. Some of these units will address topics that embrace more than one Big Era. Teachers may choose among Closeup units to probe more deeply into specific aspects of world history. Closeup units will be progressively added to the curriculum. We invite history and social studies educators to submit Closeup units for inclusion in the curriculum. Go to Contact Us on the Home Page for more information on submitting Closeup Teaching Units.

The table below provides links to teaching units on the site or under development.


The Plague of Historical Amnesia in the Age of Fascist Politics

As the boundaries of the unthinkable become normalized, historical consciousness is replaced by manufactured forms of historical amnesia and ignorance. As white supremacy becomes entrenched at the highest levels of power and in the public imagination, the past becomes a burden that must be shed.[1] Disparaging, suppressing or forgetting the horrors of history has become a valued and legitimating form of political and symbolic capital, especially among the Republican Party and conservative media. Not only have history’s civic lessons been forgotten, but historical memory is also being rewritten, especially in the ideology of Trumpism, through an affirmation of the legacy of slavery, the racist history of the Confederacy, American exceptionalism, and the mainstreaming of an updated form of fascist politics.[2]

Theodor Adorno’s insights on historical memory are more relevant than ever. He once argued that as much as repressive governments would like to break free from the past, especially the legacy of fascism, “it is still very much alive.” Moreover, there is a price to be paid with “the destruction of memory.” In this case, “the murdered are …cheated out of the single remaining thing that our powerlessness can offer them: remembrance.”[3] Adorno’s warning rings particularly true at a time when two-thirds of young American youth are so impoverished in their historical knowledge that they are unaware that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.[4] On top of this shocking level of ignorance is the fact that “more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust.”[5] Historical amnesia takes a particularly dangerous turn in this case, and prompts the question of how young people and adults can you even recognize fascism if they have no recollection or knowledge of its historical legacy.

The genocide inflicted on Native Americans, slavery, the horrors of Jim Crow, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, the rise of the carceral state, the My Lai massacre, torture chambers, black sites, among other historical events now disappear into a disavowal of past events made even more unethical with the emergence of a right-wing political language and culture. The Republican Party’s attack on critical race theory in the schools which they label as “ideological or faddish” both denies the history of racism as well as the way in which it is enforced through policy, laws, and institutions. For many republicans, racial hatred takes on the ludicrous claim of protecting students from learning about the diverse ways in which racism persist in American society. For instance, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida stated that “There is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.”[6] In this updated version of racial cleansing, the call for racial justice is equated to a form of racial hatred leaving intact the refusal to acknowledge, condemn, and confront in the public imagination the history and persistence of racism in American society

Bolstered by a former president and a slew of Vichy-type politicians, right-wing ideologues, intellectuals, and media pundits deny and erase events from a fascist past that shed light on emerging right-wing, neo-Nazi, and extremist policies, ideas, and symbols. As Coco Das points out given that 73 million people voted to re-elect Trump, it is clear that Americans “have a Nazi problem.”[7] This was also evident in the words and actions of former president Trump who defended Confederate monuments and their noxious past, the waving of Confederate flags and the display of Nazi images during the attempted coup on the Capital on January 6 th , and ongoing attempts by the Republican Party legislators to engage in expansive efforts at enabling a minority government. America’s Nazi problem is also visible in the growing acts of domestic terrorism aimed at Asians, undocumented immigrants, and people of color.

Historical amnesia also finds expression in the right-wing press and among media pundits such as Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, whose addiction to lying exceeds the boundaries of reason and creates an echo chamber of misinformation that normalizes the unspeakable, if not the unthinkable. Rational responses now give way to emotional reactions fueled by lies whose power is expanded through their endless repetition. How else to explain the baseless claim made by them, along with a number of Republican lawmakers, right-wing pundits, and Trump’s supporters who baselessly lay the blame for the storming of the US Capitol on “Antifa.” These lies were circulated despite of the fact that “subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with Antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.”[8]

In this case, I think it is fair to re-examine Theodor W. Adorno’s claim that “Propaganda actually constitutes the substance of politics” and that the right-wing embrace of and production of an endless stream of lies and denigration of the truth are not merely delusional but are endemic to a fascist cult that does not answer to reason, but only to power while legitimizing a past in which white nationalism and racial cleansing become the organizing principles of social order and governance.[9]

In the era of post-truth, right-wing disimagination machines are not only hostile to those who assert facts and evidence, but also supportive of a mix of lethal ignorance and the scourge of civic illiteracy. The latter requires no effort to assess the truth and erases everything necessary for the life of a robust democracy. The pedagogical workstations of depoliticization have reached new and dangerous levels amid emerging right-wing populisms.[10] It is not surprising that we live at a time when politics is largely disconnected from echoes of the past and justified on the grounds that direct comparisons are not viable, as if only direct comparisons can offer insights into the lessons to be learned from the past. We have entered an age in which thoughtful reasoning, informed judgments, and critical thought are under attack. This is a historical moment that resembles a dictatorship of ignorance, which Joshua Sperling rightly argues entails:

The blunting of the senses the hollowing out of language the erasure of connection with the past, the dead, place, the land, the soil possibly, too, the erasure even of certain emotions, whether pity, compassion, consoling, mourning or hoping.[11]

It is clear is that we live in a historical period in which the conditions that produced white supremacist politics are intensifying once again. How else to explain former President Trump’s use of the term “America First,” his labeling immigrants as vermin, his call to “Make America Great Again” — signaling his white nationalist ideology–his labeling of the press as “enemies of the people,” and his numerous incitements to violence while addressing his followers. Moreover, Trump’s bid for patriotic education and his attack on the New York Times’s 1619 Project served as both an overt expression of his racism and his alignment with right-wing white supremacists and neo-Nazi mobs. Historical amnesia has become racialized. In the rewriting of history in the age of Trump, the larger legacy of “colonial violence and the violence of slavery inflicted on Africans” are resurrected as a badge of honor.[12]

America’s long history of fascist ideologies and the racist actions of a slave state, the racial cleansing espoused by the Ku Klux Klan, and an historical era that constitutes what Alberto Toscano calls “the long shadow of racial fascism” in America are no longer forgotten or repressed but celebrated in the Age of Trump.[13] What is to be made of a former President who awarded the prestigious Medal of Freedom to a blubbering white supremacist, ultra-nationalist, conspiracy theorist, and virulent racist who labeled feminists as “Feminazis.” In this case, one of the nation’s highest honors went to a man who took pride in relentlessly disparaging Muslims, referred to undocumented immigrants as “an invading force” and an “invasive species,” demonized people of color, and recycled Nazi tropes about racial purity while celebrating the mob that attacked the Capitol as “Revolutionary War era rebels and patriots.”[14] Under the banner of Trumpism, those individuals who reproduce the rhetoric of political and social death have become, celebrated symbols of a fascist politics that feeds off the destruction of the collective public and civic imagination.

William Faulkner once stated “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In its updated version, we live not only with the ghosts of genocide and slavery, but also with the ghosts of fascism—we live in the shadow of the genocidal history of indigenous inhabitants, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and systemic police violence against people of color.[15] And while we live with the ghosts of our past, we have failed to fully confront its implications for the present and future. To do so would mean recognizing that updated forms of fascist politics in the current moment are not a rupture from the past, but an evolution.[16] White supremacy now rules the Republican Party and one of its tools of oppression is the militarization and weaponization of history. Fascism begins with language and the suppression of dissent, while both suppressing and rewriting history in the service of power and violence.

In the age of neoliberal tyranny, historical amnesia is the foundation for manufactured ignorance, the subversion of consciousness, the depoliticization of the public, and the death of democracy. It is part of a disimagination machine that is perpetuated in schools, higher education, and the corporate controlled media. It divorces justice from politics and aligns the public imagination with a culture of hatred and bigotry. Historical amnesia destroys the grammar of ethical responsibility and the critical habits of citizenship. The ghost of fascism is with us once again as society forgets its civic lessons, destroys civic culture, and produces a populace that is increasingly infantilized politically through the ideological dynamics of neoliberal capitalism. The suppression of history opens the door to fascism. This is truly a lesson that must be learned if the horrors of the past are not to be repeated again. Fortunately, the history of racism is being exposed once again in the protests that are taking place all over the globe. What needs to be remembered is that such struggles must make education central to politics, and historical memory a living force for change. Historical memory must become a crucial element in the struggle for collective resistance, while transforming ideas into instruments of power.

[1] John Gray, “Forgetfulness: the dangers of a modern culture that wages war on its own past,” New Statesman, [October 16, 2017]. Online: https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2017/10/forgetfulness-dangers-modern-culture-wages-war-its-own-past

[2] Paul Street, “The Anatomy of Fascism Denial: 26 Flavors of Anti-Antifascism, Part 1,” Counter Punch. (Feb 7, 2021).Online https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/07/the-anatomy-of-fascism-denial/ Sarah Churchwell, “American Fascism: It Has Happened Again,” The New York Review of Books, [May 26, 2020].Online https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/06/22/american-fascism-it-has-happened-here/ Masha Gessen, Surviving Autocracy, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2020) Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, [Random House, 2018) Henry A. Giroux, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (San Francisco: City Lights 2018) Carl Boggs, Fascism Old and New: American Politics at the Crossroads (New York: Routledge, 2018) Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Crown, 2017)

[3] Adorno, Theodor W., “The Meaning of Working Through the Past,” Guilt and Defense, trans. Henry W. Pickford, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 215.

[4] Harriet Sherwood, “Nearly two-thirds of US young adults unaware 6m Jews killed in the Holocaust,” The Guardian (September 16, 2020). Online: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/16/holocaust-us-adults-study

[6] Michael Moline, and Danielle J. Brown “Gov. DeSantis has found a new culture-war enemy: ‘critical race theory,” Florida Phoenix (March 17, 2021). Online: https://www.floridaphoenix.com/2021/03/17/gov-desantis-has-found-a-new-culture-war-enemy-critical-race-theory/

[7] Coco Das, “What are you going to do about the Nazi Problem?” refusefascism.org. (November 24, 2020). Online: https://revcom.us/a/675/refuse-fascism-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-the-nazi-problem-en.html

[8] Michael M. Grynbaum, Davey Alba and Reid J. Epstein, “How Pro-Trump Forces Pushed a Lie About Antifa at the Capitol Riot,” New York Times (March 1, 2021). Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/01/us/politics/antifa-conspiracy-capitol-riot.html

[9] Theodor W. Adorno, Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism (London: Polity, 2020), p. 13.

[10] I take this issue up in detail in Henry A. Giroux, Racism, Politics and Pandemic Politics: Education in a Time of Crisis (London: Bloomsbury, 2021).

[11] Joshua Sperling cited in Lisa Appignanesi, “Berger’s Way of Being,” The New York Review of Books (May 9, 2019). Online: https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/05/09/john-berger-ways-of-being/

[12] Angela Y. Davis, ed. Frank Barat. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement, (Haymarket Books, 2016: Chicago, IL), pp. 81-82.

[14] Anthony DiMaggio “Limbaugh’s Legacy: Normalizing Hate for Profit.” Counter Punch. (February 19, 2021). Retrieved https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/19/limbaughs-legacy-normalizing-hate-for-profit/

[15] See, for instance, Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, eds. Four Hundred Souls (New York: One World, 2021) and Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (New York: Crown, 2016).

[16] On the American origins of fascism, also see Michael Joseph Roberto, The Coming of the American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920-1940 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018). Henry A. Giroux, American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism(San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2018).


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