Lessons from history for tackling the Covid-19 crisis

Date of news: 25 May 2021

Societies have faced serious health crises and pandemics in the past. Four historians investigate the way in which citizens and governments used to react to long-term social disruption and draw lessons from this for the contemporary Covis-19 crisis. They published their research on May 18 in Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy.

Citizens in other times were much more accustomed to living with the plague or cholera, and to some extent were also more able to accept the reality of the situation. In their research, the historians analyse the causes of social unrest and point to the need to develop strategies to adapt to a situation such as the current epidemic.

This form of ‘applied history’ about crisis management can help us adapt to the situation of an epidemic so that we can return to normal life. Consideration should be given to social and cultural mechanisms to deal with the situation, including socially acceptable medical, hygienic or other pandemic-related measures.

‘The way people respond to diseases and political and social interventions, are socially, culturally and historically determined’, says Lotte Jensen, one of the historians. ‘It is therefore important to consider the social and cultural dimensions of societies for the development of adaptive strategies.’


Beatrice de Graaf, Lotte Jensen, Rina Knoeff & Catrien Santing, 'Dancing with Death. A historical perspective on coping with Covid-19 '. In: Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy (2021)