Monday, September 21, 2020

College in the time of COVID

Foldout record of the deaths from the front of Hodges's book
As the first full term of the pandemic begins here at Dartmouth College, we are taking the opportunity to reflect back on the somewhat morbid but always fascinating history of global pandemics that our collections harbor. In particular, we've been thinking about the London plague of 1665, the smallpox outbreak in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War, and the misnomered "Spanish" flu of 1918. Although the bubonic plague ravaged London a mere one hundred and three years before Dartmouth was founded, the smallpox and flu outbreaks are "recent" enough to have had an effect on student life in Hanover.

Our post today isn't so much original content as it is a looking back to previous blog entries about these diseases and a glance forward into the possibilities of the current term. Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, while a fascinating read, also relied heavily upon the writing of Nathanial Hodges's Loimologia: or an Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665. In addition to narrative accounts, we also have a gathering of weeklybroadsides that indicate the number of deaths per week and their causes during 1665, when the plague was at its height.

Prescription for a purgative in preparation for inoculation from the late 1700s
With regard to pandemic impact upon the Dartmouth campus, we have correspondence related to a group of students seeking inoculation from the virus, a risky venture given the possibility of actually succumbing to the terrible disease. More than a century later, Clifford Orr, a member of Dartmouth's class of 1918, would write home to his mother about how the flu was sweeping across campus. While thinking about these past virulent visits, we wondered about what sorts of experiences current students might document during this coming term, and whether any of those documents might make their way into the archives as well some day.

With that in mind, this post is also a bit of self-promotion. Today, September 21st, I'll join Sarah Smith, from the Book Arts Workshop, for a fascinating look at journals created during times of crisis and pandemic. First, I'll showcase some books from Rauner Library that recount the London plague, then follow with original manuscripts that Dartmouth students wrote during the colonial smallpox outbreak and the 1918 flu. Then, Sarah Smith will help students make their own journals using materials from around the house. Instructions for making a simple book are found online on the Book Arts Workshop’s resource guide here. Feel free to make your own journal using her advice and start writing down your own journal of a plague year.