When Germs Travel: Epidemics in American History

Allen Pietrobon

As we live through a global pandemic, it is helpful to remember that this is not the first time this has happened to the United States. In fact, up until the 1960s, recurring epidemics were a regular fact of American life. This lecture will explore how American society has been affected by past epidemics and what we can learn from these experiences as we navigate our own Covid-19 crisis.

We’ll examine some of the lesser known epidemics that struck the United States over the years ranging from cholera to flu to polio and others. What impact did these diseases have on the daily life of Americans? What did we know about them at the time? We’ll compare how Europe and the United States reacted quite differently to epidemics and explore some of the medical advancements that eventually helped Americans overcome this scourge.