Feature | 30 April 2020

Questions that Matter in the Time of Pandemic


As uncertainty deepens around the future of our society, many people are turning to literature, art, philosophy, history, and critical theory for guidance. The wide-ranging imagination employed in these disciplines offers space for hope.

What guidance can the Humanities offer in times of crisis like this? And how might previously held truths be rethought during these challenging times? These questions guide THI’s new series on the potential of Humanities disciplines and practices to provide insight, comfort, and a critical space for reflection in times of extreme social, political, and economic change.

To launch our new series, the Humanities Division’s 2020 Distinguished Graduate Student Alumni Awardee and former Chair of the NEH William “Bro” D. Adams shares his thoughts on histories of plague, the “planetary interconnectedness” that COVID-19 reveals, and the ways national identities and boundaries are challenged as a result. He suggests that our different ways of interpreting the current moment will shape the path forward. And he notes the importance of storytelling in understanding the lived experience of this disease.

Following our 2020 Deep Read series, which invited curious minds to think deeply about literature, art, and the most pressing issues of the day, and building on our long-running Questions that Matter events and course programming, we invite you to now consider Questions that Matter in the Time of Pandemic. Through a series of reflections we ask how stories of this pandemic and Humanistic inquiry into questions of science, leadership, education, racial disparity, and global cultural understanding can shape solutions to this crisis.

As Adams notes, any resolutions to this time of pandemic will need to be interdisciplinary. We invite you to read across disciplines with us, and consider the histories we can draw on as we come to terms with the current moment.

—Irena Polić and Nathaniel Deutsch

Week 1: William “Bro” Adams: “Making Sense of COVID-19
Week 2: Dean Tyler Stovall: “Freedom and Race in the COVID-19 Era
Week 3: Jody Greene: “Imagining the Post-Pandemic University: A Homework Assignment