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Presentation on the new Epidemics project

On May 6th, 2020, we discussed the work of Mark Algee-Hewitt, Yibing Du, Maciej Kurzynski, Charlotte Lindemann, Nika Mavrody, Nichole Nomura, J.D. Porter, Carmen Thong, and Matthew Warner on the new Epidemics project.

Coronavirus has the topic of epidemic, and the social distancing it enforces, on everyone’s mind. This project, begun just as social distancing was first being introduced to the everyday lexicon, takes a multi-pronged approach to investigating how epidemic has interacted with literary and written forms, both present and historical. On the one hand, we’ve scoured—with mixed success—recent news sources for interesting linguistic formations and strange expressions, and we’re starting the process of hunting through historical newspaper coverage from analogs for other periods and other diseases. We’re particularly interested in examples of language of care and safety: in conditions of epidemic, who gets to care? Who gets personified, and who erased? Will public health interventions make you safe, or safer? While we ponder these questions of public rhetoric, we’ve begun a more literary investigation into social distancing and the novel of isolation. What kind of social distancing takes place in novels and how does the rhetoric of isolation reflect the formal, sociological, and cognitive experience of being in prison, being stranded on an island, or voluntarily isolating in one’s room? Does the way that we describe isolation in literary contexts change according to the gender of the characters, whether it is voluntary or not, or whether the distancing happens alone or in groups? By exploring the ways in which novels have confronted the experience of social distancing over the past three centuries, we seek to gain a better understanding of our own reactions to our current moment.