Putting the “Global” Back into Global Pandemic

By Ernest Zitser, Ph.D., Librarian for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, library liaison to the International Comparative Studies Program, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at Duke University.

Illustration of the Black Death in Florence from the Decameron
Illustration of the Black Death in Florence, from the Decameron. BNF Fr. 239, f. 1r.

Pandemics, by their very definition (< Greek pandēmos = pan “all” + dēmos “people”), affect everyone in the entire world.  They expose the permeability of border walls and remind us of the invented nature of all geopolitical boundaries.  They also provide us with an opportunity to learn something about the lived experience of people from around the globe, those external “others” whom it is all-too-easy to stereotype as strange, exotic, or dangerous. That is, pandemics invite us not merely to recognize the humanity of, and suffer alongside perfect “strangers,” who speak “foreign” languages and write in “squiggly” scripts, but actually to draw lessons from the way human communities in other parts of the world are dealing and/or have dealt with the same issues as us.

In order to help foster a more informed and compassionate approach to the current global health crisis, the subject specialists of Duke Libraries’ International and Area Studies Department devoted a series of blog posts this summer to the topic of plagues, epidemics, and pandemics in each of the world regions for which they collect materials and about which they offer reference and library instruction. Our goal is not to provide exhaustive coverage of the topic, but merely to suggest one or two resources—preferably those available online and in English—that each subject specialist has found particularly meaningful or useful in helping him or her to understand the role that infectious diseases have played in the countries, continents, and world areas for which s/he is responsible.

If you would like to get more information about a particular world region or recommendations for additional resources on the topic, please feel free to contact the appropriate IAS librarian.  And do let us know if you have your own recommendations!

See our recommended pandemic reads from around the globe:

  • The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry. Reviewed by Holly Ackerman, Head, International & Area Studies Dept. and Librarian for Latin American, Iberian and Latino/a Studies
  • The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. Reviewed by Heidi Madden, Librarian for Western European and Medieval Renaissance Studies