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What will history books say about the pandemic?

What will history books say about the pandemic?

Bobbi Sutherland, associate professor December 20, 2021
University of Dayton associate professor Bobbi Sutherland ponders what the history books will say about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life Lesson

After wars, pandemics are some of the best-remembered events in history. Though it has been more than 600 years, most people are familiar with the Black Death. It’s human nature to track our history, both personal and communal, in terms of tragedy.

Bobbi Sutherland
Bobbi Sutherland

One suggestion for delineating the generations is not by birth year but by what tragic event we do and do not remember. For example, millennials remember 9/11 but not the Challenger explosion. I believe the COVID-19 pandemic will become such a generational marker for Gen Z. But recognizing the great impact an event has on those who live through it is not identical with understanding how it will be remembered in the distant future.

In 100 years, what will be most interesting is to see what long-term social and cultural effects are attributed to the pandemic. For instance, the Black Death holds claims to ending the feudal system in western Europe, altering the economy and raising standards of living, causing mistrust of the church, leading to the Reformation and creating a desire for realistic portraiture in art, just to name a few.

What will we attribute to this pandemic?

What will we attribute to this pandemic? It’s hard to say for certain, but I suspect the shift to online “living” will be noted as the beginning of an overall change — or the farce that put an end to an experiment. Historians will ask, did economic relief packages open the way to greater social safety nets? Did we alter our medical system? Did a generation of children become under-socialized? Did we become a more compassionate society? These are the sorts of questions historians will ask. 

Eyes have it