Epidemic illnesses—not only a product of biology, but also social and cultural phenomena—are as old as cities themselves. The recent pandemic of COVID-19 has put into perspective the impact of epidemic illness on urban life, and exposed the vulnerabilities of the societies it ravages as much as the bodies it infects. How can epidemics help us understand urban environments? What insights from the outbreak, experience, and response to previous urban epidemics might inform our understanding of COVID-19?
These questions in mind, we are organizing an online symposium in May 2020 to bring together academics from a range of disciplines to present case studies from across the globe to demonstrate how cities in particular are not just the primary place of exposure and quarantine, but also the site and instrument of intervention. Presentations will be informal, brief (7-10 minutes), and illustrated with 2-4 slides.
We welcome presentations on a range of illnesses and epidemics, geographies, time periods, urban interventions, observations on the impact of these epidemics on society and urban life, and insights to understand, critique, or complexify the conception of and response to COVID-19.
Each presentation should tell the story of a city, an outbreak of illness, and the city’s response to the epidemic. For example:
- What notable interventions or actions were implemented? With what effect?
- What impact did the epidemic have on urbanism, urban design, and urban planning?
- What impact did the epidemic have on architecture in the short and long term?
- What impact did the built environment have on the epidemic, or the experience of illness?
Our goal is to create a venue to use history as a medium to provide a better understanding of the current crisis. Especially welcome are proposals by historians, public health experts, art/architectural historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and medical experts.
The proposals should address the following:
- The idea of an epidemic or widespread illness in the geographical context you study;
- The employment of urban design, architecture, landscape, and/or experience in response to the illness or the epidemic;
- The insight(s) your case study can offer to understanding today’s COVID-19 pandemic and response.
Proposals can be sent to Dr. Mohammad Gharipour, Morgan State University (email@example.com) and Dr. Caitlin DeClercq, Columbia University (firstname.lastname@example.org) by April 10, in 200-250 words. After proposals are reviewed, the symposium organizers will coordinate with accepted presenters to finalize a date and time for this event.