Historians on the coronavirus pandemic #1: Frank Bongiorno

As part of my work with Heidelberg Historical Society, I write a column for our newsletter about local events one hundred years ago. During 2019 I wrote a lot about the 1919 Spanish Influenza epidemic, but most of the local information about it was scattered in various newspapers, often in the column advertisements or in reports of council meetings. Our museum holds no local artefacts whatsoever about the epidemic in our collection- no pamphlets, no vaccination papers, nothing.

That’s not likely to happen with this current coronavirus pandemic, with museums and collecting organizations gathering together material, images and reflections right now, for their collections in the future. It’s as if we have a heightened consciousness of being in a historically significant event, no doubt underlined by the constant repetition of ‘unprecedented’, and probably bolstered even more by the news cycle and the ready availability of images worldwide of empty cities and crowded hospital corridors.

I’ve been interested in reading what historians have to say about it all. The factual parallels between this and other epidemics are relatively easy to identify, but I’m interested in what historians have to say about what it all means. And who better to start with than Australian historian, Professor Frank Bongiorno from A.N.U.?

On 29 April Frank, along with Professor John Quiggan  gave a Zoom talk to the Victorian branch of the Australian Fabian Society on the topic ‘Socialism and the Australian Progressive Movement’.

You can access it from the Australian Fabian Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/australianfabians/videos/619066028823088/

Or Inside Story has a very interesting article drawn from Frank’s talk called “Is history our post-pandemic guide?”  He looks back to WWI/Spanish Flu, the Depression and World War II. For those of who hope that perhaps some good will come from of all of this today, he warns that progressive change never comes from conflict, only from bipartisan consensus, however lukewarm. It’s well worth reading.


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