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Interactive online symposium examines plagues through literature

Release Date: April 10, 2020

Plague LiteraturePutting the coronavirus pandemic in historical context in view of earlier plagues is the topic of a new interactive, online symposium offered free by Lawrence Technological University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Plague Literature in the Time of Coronavirus: an Online Symposium for the Quarantined” will be conducted from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern time Sunday, April 12 online. The series continues with sessions on Fridays, April 17, April 24, May 1, May 8, and May 15, all from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

In all the programs, participants will be free to submit written questions online. To register for any of the programs, visit the symposium website.

“The spiritual life does not come to a halt in times of disaster, and neither does the intellectual life,” said Phillip Vogt, associate professor of humanities, social science and communication at LTU. “In fact, universities exist for the sake of nurturing intellectual activity under any and all conditions, and so it is natural for Lawrence Tech to remind people that pandemics are not new events, and that much of great value has been written about similar events in the past. The descriptions left by our ancestors always make fascinating reading, and they are never more relevant than right now.”

The opening program, “Disease as Moral Event,” will discuss the Old Testament’s Book of Job, as well as the “History of the Peloponnesian War” by the ancient Greek historian and general Thucydides.

Other programs include:

* “Sheltering in Place like an Expert” April 17, a discussion of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” a series of 10 tales told by people sheltering near Florence, Italy during the Black Death in the 1300s

* “Bearing Witness (Reliably or Not)” April 24, a discussion of the diary of Samuel Pepys and Daniel Dafoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year,” both written during a 1665 outbreak of the bubonic plague in England

* “You Couldn’t Make This Up: Fictionalized Accounts of Plague” May 1, a discussion of Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel,” a coming-of-age novel set in the early 20th century with the specter of tuberculosis in the background, and Josh Russell’s “Yellow Jack,” a novel of 19th century New Orleans haunted by yellow fever, a mosquito-borne hemorrhagic disease

* “Eros, Healthy and Diseased” May 8, a discussion of Plato’s “Symposium,” a series of speeches delivered by famous Greeks in praise of Eros, the god of love and desire, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a story examining love in its many forms involving a doctor dedicated to the eradication of cholera

* “Literarily (Not Literally) Sick: Illness and Literary Theory,” a discussion of Susan Sontag’s “AIDS and its Metaphors,” an examination of the demonization of AIDS and AIDS patients in the 1980s


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