Pandemics, quarantine and public health

Historians are responding to the Covid-19 emergency, offering insights not only on public health measures in the past, but on civil emergency responses, health communications, and national narratives of governmental competence.

If you would like to speak to any of the experts featured, please contact us. If you would like to submit a paper, please see the editorial guidelines.


Policy Papers

The economic consequences of plague: lessons for the age of Covid-19

Guido Alfani traces the long-term effects of previous pandemics, and finds that a region's starting conditions are key to economic outcomes – and some consequences are still with us 600 years after the Black Death.

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‘The death of the high street’: town centres from post-war to Covid-19

The high street was already suffering before the extra pressure of lockdown, says Alistair Kefford, but town centres used to have wider social, civic and economic functions beyond just shopping. It is time for local authorities to adopt measures to rediscover them.

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Covid-19 and the UK national debt in historical context

Duncan Needham traces the history of the National Debt – expected to exceed GDP in the course of the Covid crisis – and shows that the UK is capable of recovering from debt levels as high or higher, with the right instruments.

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The real lessons of the Blitz for Covid-19

A roundtable of experts in the UK's emergency civil defence response during the Second World War explores lessons for the current crisis.

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Call it what it is – supermarket rationing

State-backed rationing is already with us in response to Coronavirus-related shortages, says Mark Roodhouse – and the First World War holds a warning about this model.

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Putting pandemics in perspective

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Opinion Articles

Not business as usual: a feminist map for the post-Covid future

Lucy Delap, D-M Withers and Margaretta Jolly on the approaches feminist thought has taken to business and sustainability, and how we can use those lessons in a post-Covid future.

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Epidemics and society: plague in early modern Italy

John Henderson finds some familiar features of the current lockdown situation in early modern Italy - and some compassionate, charity-driven behaviour.

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Loosening lockdown: lessons from the blackout

The Second World War blackout offers us a close analogy to the Covid-19 lockdown, say Henry Irving and Marc Wiggam – complete with flouting of the rules, and opposition to its being lifted.

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Covid-19 is not a Black Swan: predictable shocks need fully-funded, resilient public services

In a globalised world, new pathogens made their way to Britain and killed thousands, while a social security system depleted for ideological motives failed to cope. Not today, but the 1830s and 1840s, says Simon Szreter.

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The need for a new National Food Policy: food supply problems during national emergencies

Supply chain inadequacies and agricultural worker shortages - the Covid crisis is highlighting the lack of a coherent and integrated national food policy, say John Martin and James P. Bowen

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Public Enemy number one: terrorism, security, and Covid-19

The terrorist threat metaphor acted as a wake-up call at the start of the crisis, says Chris Millington – but it may open the door to authoritarian measures in the name of public health security.

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Soldiering a pandemic: the threat of militarized rhetoric in addressing Covid-19

Christoph Laucht and Susan T. Jackson explore the language leaders deploy to map certainty onto an uncertain, frightening time - but at what cost to international co-operation, and to individual empowerment? 

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A matter of life and death: football, conflict and the coronavirus

Tosh Warwick on the precedents for dealing with sporting fixture postponement and cancellation, from smallpox outbreaks of previous eras.

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Hospital visiting in epidemics: an old debate reopened

Graham Mooney and Jonathan Reinarz on the history of access to infectious patients, and how hospitals are tackling emotional contact, support and grief in the current crisis.

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On infection parties, herd immunity and other half-truths

The history of smallpox's eradication shows how risky attempts at creating immunity can be, says Anita Guerrini.

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Does Coronavirus spell the end for neoliberalism?

Adrian Williamson asks what the government's stimulus plan of March might mean for the future.

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Covid-19 and the 1918 ‘Spanish ‘flu’: differences give us a measure of hope

Michael Bresalier shows that the backdrop of war to the 1918 pandemic, as well as the lack of global governance and the state of clinical knowledge, formed very different circumstances to those of today.

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Epidemic control in Chinese public health: past and present

Mary Augusta Brazelton relates the history of a public health approach that has incorporated coercion, persuasion, education – and most recently, "medical diplomacy"

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Ocado for all - lessons from Second World War transport logistics

As supermarkets battle with shortages and vulnerable customers suffer, there are lessons we can learn from co-operation between companies and local and national government, says Mark Roodhouse

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Epidemics and ‘essential work’ in early modern Europe

Kevin Siena explores the redefinition of 'essential work' and notes that this is not the first time the economically disadvantaged have been pushed into the front line of disease

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Blitz spirit won’t help ‘Win the Fight’ against Covid-19

The myth of the Blitz spirit could be actively dangerous, says Henry Irving - we need to define a Coronavirus spirit of our own, where engaged citizenship encourages social distancing

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Quarantine - an early modern approach

Jane Stevens Crawshaw on early modern Italy's experiences with quarantine - originating in Venice as a response to plague

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About Us


H&P is an expanding Partnership based at King's College London and the University of Cambridge, and additionally supported by the University of Leeds, the University of Liverpool and the Open University.

We are the only project in the UK providing access to an international network of more than 500 historians with a broad range of expertise. H&P offers a range of resources for historians, policy makers and journalists.

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