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News > School Newsletter > From our Head of History

From our Head of History

Our Head of History, Mr Marco Scali, reflects on how history and the study of past instability shapes our social and political response to COVID-19.

In writing about educational leadership, Brooks and Normore (2010) outline that to be successful, school leaders need to develop “an astute understanding of the history of a school and community” so they can “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.”[i] Similarly, the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of examining history amidst instability and unfolding trauma. Just like the educational theorists above, many fields working at the coalface of COVID-19 have drawn on history and historians to provide guidance and meaning during the pandemic.

In 2020, the Reserve Bank of Australia developed an article entitled the “Economic Effects of the Spanish Flu”[ii] to make sense of the unfolding 2020 COVID-19 outbreak and to project how the Australian economy could react based on what had happened to the Australian economy in 1919 with the Spanish Flu. The author of the article (James Bishop) states early on that “when faced with a shock like COVID-19, economists usually look to the historical record for a guide as to how things might play out.”[iii] Bishop draws many varied conclusions through his analysis, but ultimately optimistically surmises that in the wake of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919 “the speed of recovery in the labour market and absence of any scarring effects is noteworthy” and that “a surprising feature of the Spanish flu episode was how quickly the labour market appears to have recovered.”[iv]

Dr Anthony Fauci is now known to many in his role as Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the USA. In an article in the New Yorker, Michael Specter outlines the unique approach of Dr Fauci in his many years of public health work as a physician.[v] In summarising Dr Fauci’s character, Specter says, “he’s never been one to say this is how we do it and we’re never going to do it a different way.”[vi] Dr Fauci’s academic passions are explained by Specter as informing his unique medical approach. He states that, “Fauci spent a lot of his life studying Latin and Greek and romance languages and philosophy. He was very deeply concerned with the humanities. He wasn't a guy just saying, "What are the English courses I need to take to graduate so I can go to medical school?" It was pretty much the inverse. He was saying, "What are the science courses I need to take to go? Because these other things are also very important."[vii] Specter adds that Dr Fauci believes that “the combination of the humanities and science seemed to push him towards being a certain type of physician. Because physicians are people who interpret science and deliver it to people, they need to do it in a human way. They need to do it in a way that people understand.”[viii]

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed “many fractures, tensions and conflicts”[ix] within our contemporary society, but what is also clear is the sense of solidarity it has encouraged between history and other disciplines who have sought to collectively share their knowledge and find innovative solutions for the present and the future.

Mr Marco Scali

Head of History

 

[i] Jeffrey S. Brooks and Anthony H. Normore, “Educational Leadership and Globalization: Literacy for a Glocal Perspective.” Educational Policy, 24(1), 2010. p.70.

[ii] James Bishop, “Economic Effects of the Spanish Flu.” RBA Bulletin, 18 June 2020. Accessed via https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2020/jun/economic-effects-of-the-spanish-flu.html

[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] Michael Specter, “How Anthony Fauci became America’s doctor.” New Yorker, April 20, 2020. Accessed via https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/20/how-anthony-fauci-became-americas-doctor

[vi] Dave Davies, “Long Before COVID-19, Dr Anthony Fauci ‘Changed Medicine in America Forever.’” NPR, April 16, 2020. Accessed via https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/16/834873162/long-before-covid-19-dr-tony-fauci-changed-medicine-in-america-forever

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Nicholas Breyfogle, “What history can teach us about pandemics” The Ohio State University, May 7, 2020. Accessed via https://artsandsciences.osu.edu/news/what-history-can-teach-us-about-pandemics

Further reading on history and COVID-19

Dave Evensen, “Pandemics and Fear: How history helps us understand COVID-19.” University of Illinois, May 7, 2020. Accessed via https://las.illinois.edu/news/2020-05-07/pandemics-and-fear-how-history-helps-us-understand-covid-19

Frank Bongiorno, “How Australia’s response to the Spanish flu of 1919 sounds warnings on dealing with coronavirus.” The Conversation, March 22, 2020. Accessed via https://theconversation.com/how-australias-response-to-the-spanish-flu-of-1919-sounds-warnings-on-dealing-with-coronavirus-134017

“Closed Borders and Broken Agreements: Spanish Flu in Australia.” March 30, 2021. National Archives of Australia. Accessed via https://www.naa.gov.au/blog/closed-borders-and-broken-agreements-spanish-flu-australia

Debbie Cuthbertson, “What we can learn from Victoria’s Spanish flu outbreak of 1919.” The Age, March 22, 2020. Accessed via https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/what-we-can-learn-from-victoria-s-spanish-flu-outbreak-of-1919-20200319-p54bus.html

Zach Hope, “Masks, lockdowns and a second wave: a century on, history repeats itself.” The Age, July 25, 2020. Accessed via https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/masks-lockdowns-fines-and-a-devastating-second-wave-a-century-on-history-repeats-20200723-p55er1.html

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