Life Science Historians look to past plagues to understand the coronavirus pandemic’s future
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Historians look to past plagues to understand the coronavirus pandemic’s future

The god Neptune in a mask, in one of the most famous fountains in Rome and in the world, the Trevi Fountain. . Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic
Medieval historians have taken cues from plagues of the past to predict what will happen next. Photo: Getty
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For historians there’s a future in studying the past, particularly when it comes to coronavirus.

Medieval historians have been taking cues from plagues of the past to predict what will happen as the world deals with COVID-19.

Senior research fellow in medieval and early modern studies at Australian Catholic University Matthew Champion says there’s patterns to how people respond to crises.

When the virus reared its head, he expected some people to go into voluntary isolation, others to ignore it and amp up their social life, and for some to flee to the countryside.

“That’s a pretty old trope,” Dr Champion said.

Historians also expected conspiracy theories, scapegoating techniques and suspicion around transmission, usually locked on to one group of foreigners.

Dr Champion believes there will be calls for reform on the other side of the virus, as the crisis shows which areas of society need to be stronger.

And as with the plague, waves of the virus will occur if communities aren’t careful.

One of the warnings from history would be to watch out for waves and watch out for becoming complacent,’’ he said.

But living in a modern society means the coronavirus pandemic is different on two major fronts: The possibility of a vaccine, as well as technology.

People were locked up inside their houses in 17th century London to deal with the plague, and large-scale communications centred on bell ringing.

If you hear the bells constantly ringing for the dead, and that’s the thing you’re getting from your wider community as your message, that’s pretty disturbing,’’ Dr Champion said.

If he were a historian of the future, he would study how home lives have changed during coronavirus, particularly focused on the rise of home schooling and new strategies of living together.

Dr Champion expects scores of work when the coronavirus pandemic is a thing of the past.

“There will be remarkable histories to be written about this,” he said.

-AAP