'Disease in History' Series: For a Historian, Today's Headlines Aren't Fresh News

Many people spend hours scrolling through online news sites, checking for updates and news tidbits. In what is probably good news for those obsessed with the state of the world in 2020, the front page of today’s Washington Post features exactly zero news articles that are not COVID-19 related.

But historians in Utah State University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences would like to remind everyone that, as the song says, “Everything old is new again.”

That’s the message the Department of History shares in “Disease in History: A Social Media Series Featuring History Faculty at USU.” The series began earlier this month, and new episodes will be posted daily through April 25 on all social media platforms.

According to the series’ description, “In this time of pandemic, USU History offers insights from the global past on disease, coping strategies, personal histories, vaccines and pandemics.”

Topics range from recent history (“Dr. Anthony Fauci and the AIDS Crisis”) to ancient times (Classics Distinguished Professor Frances Titchener on the Plague of Athens in 429). 

Ross Peterson, professor emeritus of history, presents the moving story of his family’s anguish when his brother was infected with polio and the fear that consumed the entire nation in the 1950s. 

A pandemic offers an opportunity to reflect on human history, according to Tammy Proctor, head of the Department of History. 

“The department wanted to tap into the expertise of faculty who have analyzed the impact of past disease epidemics and pandemics,” she said. 

A bonus, she added, is that the series “is a way of staying connected with our community of students and alumni.”

All episodes to date are on facebook.com/USUHistory, as well as Twitter and Instagram, using the tag USUHistory. Episodes that feature videos, such as Ross Peterson’s account, can also be seen at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLIek069ZRJMflwC4sBA-VD14sHOFFugP.

Schedule of episodes:

  • April 3: Tammy Proctor, “Introduction to the Series”
  • April 4: Susan Grayzel, “The 1918 Flu and the Question of Masks”


  • April 5: Mark Damen, “The Black Death”
  • April 6: Colleen O’Neill, “The Jingle Dance and the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic: An Interview With Historian Brenda Child” 
  • April 7: Clayton Brown, “The Origins of COVID-19 in a Historical Context”
  • April 8: Rebecca Andersen, “Flu in Davis County, Utah, 1918-1919”
  • April 9: Ross Peterson, “A Personal Story of Polio in Idaho in the 1950s”
  • April 10: Danielle Ross, “Counting Days of Life and Death: How Epidemics Affect Our Perception of Time”
  • April 11: Jamie Sanders, “Disease and the Spanish Conquest”


  • April 12: Frances Titchener, “Long Walls: Athens 429”
  • April 13: Eliza Rosenberg, “Why Doesn't God Let Us Suffer? Religious Responses to the Bubonic Plague”
  • April 14: Susan Cogan, “The Emotional Toll of the Black Death”
  • April 15: Chris Babits, “Dr. Anthony Fauci and the AIDS Crisis”
  • April 16: William Jackson, “The Poliovirus Panic”
  • April 17: Ahmet Izmirlioglu, “Women Saving Lives Beyond Borders: Smallpox Inoculation”
  • April 18: Lawrence Culver, “Tourists, Tuberculosis, and Sickness in the Land of Sunshine”   


  • April 19: Norm Jones, “Sheltering in Place in Florence, 1631”
  • April 20: Hugh Davidson, “Historic Trails and Disease”
  • April 21: John Barton, “Small Pox and the 1837 Infection of Northern Plains Tribes”
  • April 22: Joseph Ward, “Pepys on Plague”
  • April 23: Charlie Huenemann, “The Worm in the Blood”
  • April 24: Seth Archer, to be determined
  • April 25: Tammy Proctor, “Cholera: Miasma or Bad Water?”