Media and Epidemics

Technologies of Science Communication and Public Health in the 20th and 21st Centuries

What is the relationship between technologies of communication and social and cultural change? This collaborative project between humanities researchers and art practitioners proposes to explore this question in the context of public health and illness. More specifically, it seeks to document, from historical and contemporary as well as trans-disciplinary and trans-regional perspectives, the role of media and communication technologies in the making and management of epidemic outbreaks in Poland, Romania, the UK and India since the beginning of the twentieth century. Through its strong public outreach component that incorporates forms of artistic expression like theatre and creative writing, the project also aims to devise innovative educational tools that help restore the memory of past pandemics to public consciousness and promote critical thinking about public health, media and technology in the Digital Age.

The project employs an interdisciplinary methodology that draws on a combination of historical and literary approaches, including formulating the conceptual and theoretical framework and collecting and analyzing archival, printed and oral evidence in Poland, Romania, Hungary, India, the UK, Switzerland and the US. Moving beyond the ‘effect’ tradition of media research, it investigates the manner in which different groups of social actors incorporated media and technology into communicative practices around epidemic outbreaks, to understand the form and content of the public health debates and communications thus mediated and locate these developments within a longer history of technological and medical innovation. We focus on five groups of social actors, some of whom have been central to epidemic responses, while others have found themselves at their periphery: 1) governments, 2) scientists, healthcare professionals and health activists, 3) media institutions and practitioners, 4) persons with disabilities, and) minorities, e.g. Roma people and South Asian migrants. Each team will contribute insights relevant to all five groups but, for reasons of manageability, it will produce in-depth outputs that focus on some of them. Thus, the investigations of the Romanian team will focus on governments, scientists, media institutions, and minorities. As part of its public outreach component, the project will produce creative writing workshops and theatre performances, implemented in collaboration with our collaboration partners. For the Romanian side of the project, this will involve workshops and theater performances developed by the Fragile Society with the participation of high-school students.