ONLINE Colloquium Series: “Parallels and Pragmatism: Disease Control in History”


As part of our ongoing “Pursuit of Happiness Hour” colloquium series, sponsored by Logboat Brewing, Kinder Institute Associate Director & Professor of History Jeffrey L. Pasley will moderate an online discussion among several historians who have been thinking and writing about the issue of disease control in history. See below for an abstract and brief bios of each panelist, including links to their recent publications on the talk’s subject. The discussion will begin at approximately 3:30PM Central Time on April 24, 2020, and can be accessed using this Zoom link. Email Thomas Kane,, for password info.


In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world back in time. Because it is a “novel” virus that scientists know little about and for which modern medicine has yet no cure, the world’s governments have had to resort to the kind of extreme, untargeted measures that authorities took in past centuries before microorganisms were even discovered: edicts, quarantines, evacuations, curfews, public shaming, blocked borders. Hence it seems relevant to learn about how past outbreaks have been handled and what lessons and parallels these past examples might offer us today.

Prof. Jessica Choppin Roney is Associate Professor of History at Temple University and author of Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), as well as a recent Washington Post op-ed, “Benjamin Franklin would want us to take the covid-19 battle into our own hands.”

Dr. Sonia Tycko is the Kinder Junior Research Fellow at St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford, and the Rothermere American Institute. Her recent blog post for the great British history journal Past & Present addressed “Disease and the Release of Prisoners: An Early Modern Perspective.”

Prof. Kristy Wilson Bowers is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Missouri and author of Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville (University of Rochester Press, 2013). Prof. Bowers recently shared her knowledge with MU History alumni and students in her in-house article, “Social Distancing Has a Long History.”

Jessica Roney studies bottom-up political culture in colonial America. Her first book, Governed by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia, studies voluntary associations and civic culture in Philadelphia from its English founding in 1682 until the American Revolution and argues that, in Philadelphia, the civic engagement of ordinary white men (rather than exclusively of elites) was far more pervasive than historians had understood. Her current book project, Revolutionary Settlement: The Colonies of the American Revolution, examines two linked diasporas that resulted from the American Revolution: one of Loyalists predominantly to Canada, and one of Anglo-American settlers to the trans-Appalachian west where they founded colonies that might—or might not—one day be part of the United States. Her work asks how these people (and the policymakers who wanted to regulate them!), who had all lived through the American Revolution, drew meaning from that seismic event, and how they implemented those lessons as they created new colonies as parts of larger empires.

Sonia Tycko is a historian of early modern England and its American colonies, with an emphasis on social relations, law, and labor. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2019. As a Kinder Junior Research Fellow in Atlantic History at the Rothermere American Institute and St. Peter’s College, Oxford, she is revising her dissertation into a book, tentatively entitled Captured Consent: Forced Labor and the Rise of Freedom of Contract. This project examines what consent meant and how it worked in seventeenth-century master-servant relationships that were formed under coercion. An article arising out of this research, “The Legality of Prisoner of War Labour in England, 1648–1655,” is forthcoming in Past & Present. Her research has been supported by the Mellon-ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, the American Historical Association, the Huntington Library, the North American Conference on British Studies, the John Carter Brown Library, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

A native of northern Virginia, Professor Kristy Wilson Bowers first arrived in the midwest for graduate school at Indiana University. Upon leaving Bloomington, her teaching has taken her across the country from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Maryland and Pennsylvania, then back again to the midwest. She arrived at Missouri in 2015 after 13 years at Northern Illinois University.

Professor Wilson Bowers is an historian of medicine, whose research focuses on early modern Spain. Her first book, Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville, examines the processes of negotiation between city leaders, doctors and residents over public health regulations in response to plague epidemics. Her current book project focuses on sixteenth-century learned surgeons.