During the spring 2020 semester, history majors Morgana Olbrich ’20, Tiffini Eckenrod ’20, Matthew Furgele ’21, Logan Mazullo ’20, and Andrew McSwiggan ’20 grappled with the Black Death, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the four questions of the Ursinus Quest core curriculum.
“Writing the web piece with my students was not a planned part of the seminar,” said Throop. “But as we shifted online in March and April 2020, my students shifted their capstone research projects in ways that acknowledged the new pandemic surrounding us, and our conversations and collaborative work together only became richer. Some students, like Tiffini Eckenrod, were also taking immediate action to help as the pandemic unfolded.”
Their work was referenced in the introduction to a special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine on “Reimagining Epidemics” (94/4, Winter 2020). The authors of the introduction, all historians of medicine, cited the piece as an example of how the teaching of the Black Death had become “newly resonant” at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throop’s intention was to showcase the different types of work in which her students were engaged—intellectual work as historians, informed ethical reflection on the core questions, and direct care for others—in a way that reflected the intense collaboration and shared learning that was taking place.
“I also wanted to demonstrate what the study of history has to offer of immediate value in a moment of crisis,” said Throop. “Contrary to stereotype, historians study the past because of their concern for the present and future, and many historians are incredibly interdisciplinary and collaborative in their approach to the past. My students had insights to offer, as historians, that were of value to broader audiences.
“Many humanities disciplines lack the model of shared publication common in the natural sciences and some social sciences, but humanities faculty and students are nonetheless doing exceptional work, and outside experts recognize that.”