Dr. Jonathan Roberts is a professor of History at Mount Saint Vincent University and an expert in the history of pandemics. For years, he’s taught the course “Plagues and Peoples” at MSVU – in fact, he’s in the midst of teaching it online right now as part of the University’s summer session offerings.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Jonathan has shared his expertise through numerous media interviews. In addition to coronavirus, he’s offered public commentary on outbreaks of Ebola and influenza. He advocates for transparency and openness during pandemics, as a way to avoid the scapegoating and conspiracy theories that have been prevalent during past outbreaks.

Now, Jonathan is sharing his lessons on the history of pandemics with the world through a new podcast launched earlier this month. Called “Pandemics Past and Present,” the series delves into the causes and outcomes of global pandemics.

“As they chase the headlines, journalists have been doing their best to pick and choose historical facts about pandemics to suit their immediate need for content, but I felt that people needed something more insightful, while at the same time accessible,” said Jonathan.

“Pandemics aren’t new – we have been living with them throughout the span of human history. They are something like vampires – they live with us like parasites and they never die. And each pandemic – plague, smallpox, cholera, flu, etc. – has its own special characteristics that make them interesting historical characters. COVID-19 has its own special identity too – one that is forming before our very eyes.”

The series will feature 8 episodes to be added periodically throughout May, with interviews with other scholars to be added regularly. Listeners can tune in on a variety of platforms – listen on Google PodcastsApple Podcasts, SpotifyAnchor and more.

Current episode summary

Episode 1: What causes COVID-19?
Like every pandemic, COVID-19 is more than just a disease caused by a microscopic pathogen – it takes a lot more than a virus to cause a global pandemic. In episode 1, find out more about the biological, environmental, social and cultural causes of our pandemic, COVID-19.

Episode 2: Pandemic disease – pathological blight and social plight
Every pandemic follows certain rules. The pathogen seeks to reproduce and its hosts seek to fight it off. The results tend to follow a pattern of denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and even gratitude. In this episode, find out what the pandemics of the past can teach us about our pandemic, COVID-19.

Episode 3: Bubonic Plague – the three-peat
There have been three major pandemics of bubonic plague, each changing our world dramatically. What the plague revealed about power relations and our moral and ethical weaknesses can teach us much about how to manage our pandemic, COVID-19.

Episode 4: Smallpox – from genocide to eradication
Smallpox is defeated, but it is not gone. It has disfigured global societies permanently, often with our blessing. We have imprisoned it within the bowels of our secret laboratories, but are reluctant to eradicate it forever. In this podcast, smallpox will teach us about who we are as homo sapiens.

Special thanks to the MSVU Digital Media Zone for providing technical and editing support for the podcast series.