Life may return to almost the way it was, with more hand washing and fewer handshakes. Or entire cultures and global power balances may shift. It wouldn’t be the first time.
After bubonic plague devastated Europe, English landowners had fewer peasants to work the same amount of land. Many switched from crops to sheep, which required less labor. The English wool industry led to textiles, the Industrial Revolution, colonization, global naval power, and cultural hegemony that continues to this day. English is the international language.
Smallpox and measles ravaged the Americas when travelers from another hemisphere (like bats in the current pandemic) introduced the viruses to humans who had no prior exposure. Visiting San Antonio in February, I learned how disease and drought drove people into the missions for survival and gave rise to an entirely new, blended culture of Spanish language, Catholic faith, and indigenous foods and customs.
Will the long-term impact of coronavirus be minor or huge? It’s too early for scientists or historians to know.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.