Dancing with death. A historical perspective on coping with Covid-19

Beatrice de Graaf, Lotte Jensen, Rina Knoeff and Catrien Santing recently published “Dancing with death. A historical perspective on coping with Covid-19” in the journal Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy.

Dance of Death painted on the walls of the “chapel of the dead” on the north side of St. Mary’s church at Lübeck. All four walls of the chapel were covered with paintings of the Dance, so whoever entered the chapel found himself in the center of the dance and almost literally became part of it. Courtesy: Wellcome Images

In this paper, they address the question on how societies coped with pandemic crises, how they tried to control or adapt to the disease, or even managed to overcome the death trap in history. On the basis of historical research, they describe how societies in the western world accommodated to or exited hardship and restrictive measures over the course of the last four centuries. In particular, they are interested in how historically embedded citizens’ resources were directed towards living with and to a certain extent accepting the virus. Such an approach of “applied history” to the management of crises and public hazards, they believe, helps address today’s pressing question of what adaptive strategies can be adopted to return to a normalized life, including living with socially acceptable medical, hygienic and other pandemic-related measures.