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Sheila Culbert Delves into History of Pandemics

Head of School and historian Sheila Culbert presented a webinar on Wednesday, April 22, about the history of pandemics and their impact on the world, the second of a six-part Loomis Chaffee webinar series addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

Nearly 180 viewers tuned in to the webinar, “A Historical Overview of Pandemics and How They Changed our History.” From her Founders Hall office, Sheila spoke about pandemics that hugely disrupted global populations and brought overarching, dramatic change to life on Earth throughout history. Using data collected from several sources and referencing academic studies on pandemics, Sheila pointed to some of the ways that the current coronavirus pandemic may be compared to past pandemics, and she theorized about possible outcomes based on what historians have recorded from those previous crises.

The history of pandemics “has long been an interest of mine,” Sheila noted at the start of her talk. Prior to coming to Loomis Chaffee, Sheila taught and helped develop history curriculum, among other roles, at Dartmouth College, and she teaches a history course for Loomis Chaffee seniors.

Sheila pointed to the fact that pandemics have occurred in cycles for centuries, beginning at least as early as the Justinian Plague in 500 A.D. until the present-day COVID-19 crisis, and that scientists and historians have long expected the current global outbreak. She presented facts and findings from three of the most devastating pandemics in history: the Black Death in 1340s, the smallpox pandemic in the Americas during the 1520s, and the Spanish Flu of 1918, and considered what we might expect from the current pandemic based on historical records. 

Throughout her presentation, Sheila recommended books and other resources for anyone interested in learning more about the history and science of pandemics. She concluded by answering viewer-summitted questions in a session moderated by History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies Department Head Harrison Shure.

Connect to a recording of Sheila’s webinar.

The next webinar in the COVID-19 Speakers series will take place on Wednesday, April 29, when Pauline W. Chen ’82, a physician, bestselling author, New York Times contributor, and member of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees, will present “Medical Systems: Constraints & Opportunities” at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time. Kendra Wiesel, director of Health Services at Loomis, will moderate the question-and-answer session.

To learn more about the upcoming presentations and register to attend the webinars, connect to Loomis’ COVID-19 Speakers Series webpage.