Plague, pestilence, and pandemics have been a part of the human story from the beginning and have been reflected in art and writing at every turn. Humankind has always struggled with illness; and the experiences of different cities and countries have been compared and connected for thousands of years.
Many great authors have published their eyewitness accounts and survivor stories of the great contagions of the past. When the great Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta visited Damascus in 1348 during the great plague, which went on to kill half of the population, he wrote about everything he saw. He reported, “God lightened their affliction; for the number of deaths in a single day at Damascus did not attain 2,000, while in Cairo it reached the figure of 24,000 a day.” From the plagues of ancient Egypt recorded in Genesis to those like the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, and from the Spanish flu of 1918 to the Covid-19 pandemic in our own century, this anthology contains fascinating accounts.
Editor Peter Furtado places the human experience at the center of these stories, understanding that the way people have responded to disease crises over the centuries holds up a mirror to our own actions and experiences. Plague, Pestilence and Pandemic includes writing from around the world and highlights the shared emotional responses to pandemics: from rage, despair, dark humor, and heartbreak, to finally, hope that it may all be over. By connecting these moments in history, this book places our own reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic within the longer human story.
Peter Furtado is the editor of Histories of Nations, History Day by Day, and Great Cities Through Travelers’ Eyes. He is the former editor of History Today, the world’s leading history magazine.