Recorded on June 11, 2020

Humanity’s control over infectious disease – achieved by modern science, good policy, and economic growth – is one of the most remarkable successes of our species. But can a history of this triumph help us evaluate how fragile it is? And what does the COVID-19 pandemic look like in the long perspective of human control over infectious disease?

Kyle Harper is Professor of Classics and Letters and the Senior Vice President and Provost at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. A historian of Rome, Harper is the author of three books, Slavery in the Late Roman World, awarded the James Henry Breasted Prize; From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality, which received the Award for Excellence in Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion; and The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, which has been translated into 11 languages. His next project is a history of infectious disease, from human origins to the present, which will bring the natural sciences into conversation with the study of the human past.


This interview is part of the History Working Group Seminar Series. A central piece of the History Working Group is the seminar series, which is hosted in partnership with the Hoover Library & Archives. The seminar series was launched in the fall of 2019, and thus far has included six talks from Hoover research fellows, visiting scholars, and Stanford faculty. The seminars provide outside experts with an opportunity to present their research and receive feedback on their work. While the lunch seminars have grown in reputation, they have been purposefully kept small in order to ensure that the discussion retains a good seminar atmosphere.

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