Seeking good writing on pandemic politics in history
May 4, 2020 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn about the politics around disease outbreaks in the U.S. and other industrialized places and the process by which societies and economies address the pandemic and then transition back to normal functioning.

Specifically, I'd like to consume essays, podcasts, long-form articles, etc. that describe the public discussions of measures to protect public health (masks, social distancing), protests against those measures, tension around protecting the vulnerable vs. "getting back to work," and mixed messages from government officials. Exploration of the roles of media and social class is also of interest. Examples from my lifetime include HIV/AIDS, SARS, ebola, etc. -- I'm interested in those as well as previous pandemics like the flu of 1918, etc. Thanks!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This might be adjacent to what you're looking for, but check out books by Richard Preston, like The Hot Zone.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:06 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]

Exploration of the roles of media and social class is also of interest.

Richard McKay's Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic gets into this.

Here's the publisher's blurb:

McKay presents a carefully documented and sensitively written account of the life of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man whose skin cancer diagnosis in 1980 took on very different meanings as the HIV/AIDS epidemic developed—and who received widespread posthumous infamy when he was incorrectly identified as patient zero of the North American outbreak. McKay shows how investigators from the US Centers for Disease Control inadvertently created the term amid their early research into the emerging health crisis; how an ambitious journalist dramatically amplified the idea in his determination to reframe national debates about AIDS; and how many individuals grappled with the notion of patient zero—adopting, challenging and redirecting its powerful meanings—as they tried to make sense of and respond to the first fifteen years of an unfolding epidemic. With important insights for our interconnected age, Patient Zero untangles the complex process by which individuals and groups create meaning and allocate blame when faced with new disease threats. What McKay gives us here is myth-smashing revisionist history at its best.

There's also a documentary called Killing Patient Zero based on McKay's book. I made a post about both a while back, and people dropped some related article and video links into the comments that might be of interest.

There's also this article: “Patient Zero”: The Absence of a Patient’s View of the Early North American AIDS Epidemic
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:51 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

The People Who Risked Death for Immunity (Sarah Zhang, Atlantic, Apr. 16, 2020) When yellow fever swept through 19th-century New Orleans, immunity became so valuable, people were willing to go to extreme lengths for protection, The Dangerous History of Immunoprivilege (Kathryn Olivarius, NYT Opinion, Apr. 12, 2020 / Stanford Univ. excerpt) We’ve seen what happens when people with immunity to a deadly disease are given special treatment. It isn’t pretty.
posted by katra at 10:31 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]

History Hit just released this podcast episode.

Pandemics through History:

My chat with Clifford Williamson, lecturer at Bath Spa University and specialising in the History of Public Health, was fascinating. We talked about the widespread pandemics of the last 150 years and what we can learn from them when we look at the current COVID-19 outbreak. He also had some suggestions about what may change as a result of the crisis we are going through.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:58 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]

The Long History of Coercive Health Responses in American Law (Adam Klein, Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare, Apr. 13, 2020)
posted by katra at 12:20 PM on May 6

Thanks for the great answers, folks!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:37 AM on May 7

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