Kleio in Pandemia

Covid-19 Blog of the Imre Kertész Kolleg

It has now been three months since the Covid-19 pandemic has held the world in its grip. Experts and journalists were quick to point out the unprecedented nature of the current crisis, caused and characterized by the global flows of goods and people, services and communications. However, the experience of a pandemic or transnational health crisis is not new to humankind, neither are other experiences of uncertainty and loss of control in the face of an invisible threat. In fact, from the very beginning of this crisis, the media made many historical analogies: from the pandemic known as the Spanish flu right after the First World War, to the AIDS/HIV pandemic that started in the late 1970s, or to pre-modern outbreaks of the plague. How useful are such historical analogies for understanding the current crisis?

Apart from issues of precedence and analogy, the current crisis poses many interesting questions to historians and historically oriented social scientists. Why are historical frames invoked and in what way? What role do collective historical experiences or memories play in how societies react to the Covid-19 threat and to their governments’ responses? Are memories of previous experiences of hardship an asset or a liability (or both) in the current situation? How do current experiences link up to national narratives and trajectories?

With its 'Kleio in Pandemia'-blog, the Imre Kertész Kolleg wants to draw attention to the complex historical and mnemonic dimensions of the current crisis. Drawing on our broad network of historians and other scholars originating from and/or working in Central and Eastern Europe, we hope to add another, and often underrepresented voice, to the ongoing intellectual debate about the wider meaning of this crisis for our present and future in Europe. Indeed, voices from Central and Eastern Europe might be particularly sensitive to memories and references to past hardships and deprivation of individual freedoms. Are these societies better equipped to face the imminent difficulties and restraints imposed to weather the current crisis? Are they more likely to submit to authoritarian temptations, as the examples of Hungary and Poland seem to suggest? What historical (social or political) fault lines are being exposed by this crisis and how do legacies of the past manifest themselves in the present?

By adding a historical perspective on the current Covid-19 pandemic, our authors contribute to the growing political and intellectual debate about what to make of this crisis and its meaning for our shared future.