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Observing historical implications of COVID-19

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Apr 01, 2020

Although it is difficult to look at COVID-19 from a historical perspective, there are many ways to compare and contrast this pandemic with past experiences. A College of Lake County history professor, Phyllis Soybel, is teaching her students how to make those connections, so they recognize the historical importance of today’s events. 

“History is taking what we learned and using it to understand today,” said Soybel, who is teaching the history of pandemics and plagues this semester. “We should really observe what is happening right now because it’s been done before in a different way.”  

Historians, like Soybel, compare the COVID-19 pandemic with other historical events, such as the Bubonic plague of the mid-1300s and the Spanish flu of 1918. By analyzing evidence of historical rapid population decreases, they can compare the economic impact and help forecast what happens next.  

Another lesson history can teach us is in the nomenclature we use to classify these diseases. “The Spanish flu did not originate in Spain, but likely in Asia or the U.S.,” Soybel said. “The Spanish flu moniker was likely coined since Spain’s newspapers were reporting it and the U.S. reporters were not allowed to write about it because the information was considered ‘human intelligence’ during the war.” History also demonstrates it’s not uncommon during times like these to blame foreigners.  

As COVID-19 progresses, historians won’t know the impact for a while. It can take 10, 15 or even 30 years to really analyze what is happening today. Soybel quoted Mark Twain, “History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” 


About College of Lake County: 

The College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. The College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.