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Escaping infectious disease and managing its spread has long been at the forefront of the human mind; it’s certainly taken front and center in the minds of today’s humans as the globe continues to wade through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an especially timely and fascinating look at the story of disease past and present, historian Kyle Harper explains the evolutionary past of humanity’s uniquely dangerous disease pool in Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History. Disease, he argues, is accelerated by technological progress and entangled with the history of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism. And while triumph over disease helps our lives progress, it’s actually destabilizing the environment and fostering new diseases. Gulp. But all is not lost. Harper points out what we can learn by looking at history while simultaneously looking forward, examining patterns of wealth, health, power, and inequality, paired with insights from cutting-edge genetic research. And, he reminds us, that human health is intrinsically connected to the health of the planet itself.
Dr. Kyle Harper is Professor of Classics and Letters and Provost Emeritus at The University of Oklahoma. Dr. Harper is a historian of the ancient world whose work has spanned economic, environmental, and social history. His book, Plagues Upon the Earth, is a New Statesman Essential Non-Fiction Book of 2021. His other books include The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (Princeton) and From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.