by Katherine Coetzer ’23
On Wednesday, April 8th, viewers from across the globe connected to watch a lecture on infectious disease and human history hosted by Dr. Kyle Harper, Senior Vice President and Provost at the University of Oklahoma. While Dr. Rose Stremlau of the Davidson History Department initially intended for the Social Distancing Lecture Series to serve as a forum for intellectual engagement for Davidson students, the series has extended its reach beyond the Davidson community, circulating in academic communities as far away as the University of Sheffield in the UK.
While a poster advertising the lectures initially appeared on the History Department’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, news of the event spread to various niche online intellectual communities focused on historical archaeology and the history of medicine following numerous retweets and shares from members of the Davidson community, including President Quillen.
According to Dr. Stremlau, the lecture series not only seeks to explore “how historians approach important questions about both experiences of pandemics, of disease, of sickness, but [also] how those have shaped the human experience in the past.” Beginning on April 1st and running until May 8th, the series features a lecture on a different facet of the history of infectious diseases and pandemics each Wednesday at 7pm EST, followed by a discussion moderated by a History Department faculty member. The lectures are not only streamed on YouTube each Wednesday, but they are also archived and accessible on the Social Distancing Lecture Series website.
Dr. Stremlau explained that she drew inspiration to develop the series after a string of conversations with students in the days following Davidson’s announcement asking students to leave campus for the remainder of the semester. While classes resumed online, students would miss out on other activities that allow for valuable intellectual discussion and connection.
Dr. Stremlau emphasized that the lecture series was not an individual effort, but rather the result of collaboration amongst History Department colleagues. Some are hosting lectures themselves, while others have reached out to their connections to bring together a dynamic mix of speakers and lectures. “One of the wonderful things about our faculty at Davidson is that even though we’re a much smaller department than your typical research university History Department, we all have a lot of breadth and depth,” Dr. Stremlau said.
After hearing about the series from a teammate, swimmer Anna Montgomery ’22, a biology major, attended Dr. Harper’s lecture on April 8th. She explained that during a time of uncertainty, she has realized it is important “to learn new information to keep us reacting reasonably to news, rather than emotionally.” The lecture series provided an ideal opportunity for Montgomery to do just this.
In particular, Montgomery found it helpful to recognize that pandemics have occurred since the Roman Empire, and humans have continuously found means to address them. “Although this is the first one many of us have experienced,” she said, “pandemics and epidemics have been something humans have been dealing with for a while.”
As the series continues to gain viewers and questions on the Youtube Live Chat multiply each week, Dr. Stremlau hopes that it will help create the type of intellectual community that many students miss at home while providing inspiration for thinking about how to rebuild better, more meaningful lives after the pandemic.
Dr. Stremlau emphasized, “While we’re grieving, scared and angry, maybe in looking to the past for examples of recovery, there are models of hope for how we can we can build a better world where we don’t find ourselves in this position again, in our lifetimes or the lifetimes of our students, children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren.”