Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

Secondary Symptoms #3: Pandemic Amnesia

Last time we opened up too fast, we paid dearly. There were celebratory parades when Americans thought the 1918 Spanish Flu was over and done with. Unfortunately, the second wave was even worse.

So this week on Secondary Symptoms, the secondary symptom we’re looking at… it’s a symptom you might call pandemic amnesia. We’re asking: what have we learned from our history of pandemics, and what have we forgotten? 

We speak to Cindy Ermus, a historian of disasters and pandemics, about past disasters and what we should learn from them. It’s a wide ranging conversation about the politics of pandemic memory–about what we choose to remember, and what we choose to forget. Next, Michael Willrich tells us about his book “Pox: An American History,” which chronicles the long-forgotten American smallpox outbreaks at the turn of the last century. It’s a story of extraordinary state overreach — of vaccination by gunpoint, of forced separation, and of police repression — in the name of fighting a deadly disease. Pox asks us: how do we balance individual freedom with public health? 


To keep up with Cited, follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Tweet at us, or email your feedback to–we might just read it on the show. 


This episode was produced by Jay Cockburn and Gordon Katic

Our theme song and original music is by our composer, Mike BarberDakota Koop is our graphic designer. Our production manager is David Tobiasz, and executive producers are Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn.

This episode was funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. It’s part of a larger project on the politics of historical commemoration. Professor Eagle Glassheim at the University of British Columbia is the academic lead on that project.

Cited is produced out of the Centre of Ethics at the University of Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. Cited is also produced out of the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia — that’s on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

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