“The human imagination can inhabit the meaning of a single human calamity; multiply it across an entire population and the mind is overwhelmed. A million deaths, let alone the fifty or a hundred million caused by the pandemic, cannot be recounted as a meaningful story; they can only be counted, reduced to statistics, and trusted to speak for themselves—and they can speak only by reducing the particulars of suffering to intangible abstractions” - Catherine Belling
In the face of unprecedented disruption caused by a pandemic, individuals have come to a crossroads when it comes to seeking normalcy. Many have resigned themselves to a future filled with uncertainty, hardship, and grief when confronted with staggering scientific statistics of death tolls and infection rates. As a society, our focus on the past seems to be deriving solely empirical understandings of the pandemic, but the interpersonal explorations and the humanity behind the numbers are nonetheless important and worth looking into more closely.
The profound sense of isolation being experienced by the global populace is putting a heightened emphasis on interpersonal interactions that were previously taken for granted, and people are seeking to find comfort in shared experiences through any accessible modality. Often, this comes through seeking emotional and experiential validation in the present, but we hold that the nature of human identity is universal enough for us as a global society to be able to derive comfort not simply from one another today, but also from the parallel experiences of our historical peers. Therefore, rather than being forward-looking, people should be doing the opposite: looking backwards in order to examine the experiences of past generations who were also forced to confront the stark realities of a pandemic.
We propose that developing a historical pedagogy will prove critical towards better understanding the universality of this human experience and establishing a social framework that informs how society should progress from this period of adversity.
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, we have witnessed firsthand how swiftly our region took important action to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with shelter-in-place orders and wondering how to spend our quarantine, we began to think about how generations of the past responded to pandemics of a similar magnitude. If we decide to lean on the universality of the human experience as a sense of comfort, we are able to see that despite the “unprecedented times” we are living in, the collective experience of our surviving generations is by no means singular. We hope you enjoy the many different aspects of pandemic life that we have curated for you this summer in creating Pandemos.
Ultimately, no matter how painful our present reality becomes, we can be strong in the knowledge that this too will pass just as it has before, and understand the importance of our collective power in deciding how we want our experiences today to be remembered.
It is our utmost hope that Pandemos—a convergence of the past, present, and future—will remind you of this fact as life moves forward.
Hoping the humanities serve as your guiding light,
Jon Joey & Makenna
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We would like to sincerely thank the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies for supporting the creation of this project throughout this summer. Special thank you to Janna Shwaiko and Professor Amy Kind for their kind cooperation and understanding with us when we ran into technological hurdles and natural disasters during a summer like no other—still, as we persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic.
We would also like express our gratitude for our incredible supervisor Professor Gary Gilbert. We are so appreciative of how patient, kind, and wise he has been with us in both our weekly meetings and in providing comments on our papers. We are truly thankful for how he has always been in our corner since the first day that we have set foot on campus and for inspiring our passion for the humanities. This, too, has been an incredible trial in understanding the nature of the Self for both ourselves and humanity at large. His scholarship and mentorship has truly changed our lives.