A history of the present: How can learning about the response to pandemics in the past help understand disease response in the contemporary period

About this talk

Content Warning: This academic talk and the further resources will include the academic discussion of topics which may for some students may recount trauma or be offensive. Specifically, this talk includes mention of death as a result of a pandemic. This talk focuses on pandemics and so this will be discussed throughout, however a content warning will be given before the mention of death from the COVID-19 pandemic around 20 minutes into the talk.

What motives the governmental responses to pandemics? How has this changed over time as our knowledge of the causes has improved? Alex Benham aims to answer these questions through this fascinating talk on The Bombay Plague of 1896, in modern day Mumbai and the response of the British Government at the time and the role of colonial and racist views in the government’s attitude to the plague. Alex Benham then compares this to the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the response of the government and their attitude when the cases first began to rise. This talk will be particularly interesting for anyone considering studying Politics, History, Geography, Biology and English.

You can access this talk by clicking on the video below, or scroll down to access some further resources to increase your knowledge of this topic.



Further Resources

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of the bubonic plague in Mumbai then have a look at this article on the influence of the plague on modern day Mumbai and how it has physically shaped the city. To access the article, click here.

To learn more about the history of government’s downplaying the scale or severity of epidemics, read this news article on the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson and the Influenza outbreak of 1918, which compares the actions of this US President, to the actions of Trump during his presidency. Click here to access the article. The Guardian has released a short article on different pandemics in Europe throughout history and is a great tool for understanding how attitudes towards pandemics have changed over time, as well as the improvements in scientific understanding of the causes of pandemics and how to act to tackle them best. You can access the link here.


Alex Benham
Alex Benham

Alex Benham is a DPhil student at Christ Church, Oxford as a member of the School of Geography and the Environment. Benham has previously completed both a BA and MA at the University of Sussex. Alex Benham’s work focusing on how the British government has responded to contagious diseases in the past in order to better understand their responses to recent epidemics. You can find out more about Alex Benham’s research and focus points by clicking here


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