Michael Vargas, professor of history, appeared on the Aug. 10, 2020, episode of WAMC’s nationally syndicated radio program “The Academic Minute,” to present a comparison between the current coronavirus pandemic and the Black Death that killed millions in the 14th century.
Vargas summarizes ways the Plague affected economies, geopolitics, arts and human psychology, and asks whether the conventional way of understanding this historical episode – that it serves as evidence of humanity’s resiliency – may actually obscure a more important lesson about our collective potential.
“In the midst of crisis, the historical evidence is with the contemplatives who say: ‘this too shall pass,’ and with the scientist’s reminders that we are an adaptive species. So, we can get over COVID-19 and go back to normal,” Vargas says in the broadcast.
“But history also whispers back at itself: Can’t we do better? We can go back to our work-to-buy, pollute-to-build, push-down-to-move-up normal if we want it, but we always have access to charity and goodwill, and to a sustainable humane inventiveness. Crises give us the opportunity to envision a new and better normal.”
Michael Vargas is a historian and author specializing in the European Middle Ages, covering the period from the decline of Rome to the Protestant Reformation. His courses at SUNY New Paltz address broad questions of how we use the past to help us understand ourselves in the present.
About “The Academic Minute”
“The Academic Minute” is an educationally focused radio segment produced by WAMC in Albany, New York, a National Public Radio member station. The show features an array of faculty from colleges and universities across the country discussing the unique, high-impact aspects of their research. The program airs every weekday and is run multiple times during the day on about 50 different member stations across the National Public Radio spectrum. For more information, visit http://academicminute.org/.