When This Is Over
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.
5/11/2020 08:58:36 am
So much to imagine . . .
5/11/2020 09:24:40 am
When past or future history becomes speculative enough, the line between historical nonfiction and historical fiction grows very thin.
I imagine this is the first of several pandemics this century, future ones due to climate change. I think we've learned a lot about how to curb the spread of disease and will apply it the next times. I have been impressed how much people have followed the state guidelines, safer at home.
5/11/2020 08:54:23 pm
I hope we have long enough memories to hold onto and apply what we've learned, and not just rush back into the way things used to be. Climate change and disease sometimes go hand in hand, as with the South Texas Indians driven into the missions by drought and disease. Or medieval Iceland, when a deep cold spell ended the Viking age and icebergs cut off the trade the Icelanders needed to get enough food. Much of the population died off (in Greenland it died off entirely), and the corpses that have been unearthed show signs of disease and starvation.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.