Hiram College

From virtually on Zoom to socially distant in the classroom, classes at Hiram have looked a little different over the past year. But the class setting is not the only thing that has changed. Some professors have altered their course material to include discussions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Merose Hwang, Ph.D., associate professor of history and program coordinator for the Asian studies minor, was one of those professors.

Typically, Dr. Hwang would dedicate only one day of their premodern world history class during the semester to the medieval plague and often couple it with the downfall of the Mongol empire. This past fall, however, Dr. Hwang took nearly six weeks to discuss the medieval plague and incorporated comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the class the opportunity to explore some of the interesting parallels between the current crisis and the medieval one.

“The current pandemic has generated an explosion of scholarship on historical plagues, the medieval one being among them. I thought we would be remiss to not pay attention to this new scholarship at this point in time,” Dr. Hwang explained.

Dr. Hwang asked speakers from across multiple disciplines to join the class discussion. Matthew Notarian, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of classics, spoke about how Athenian historian, Thucydides described a plague in ancient Greece (before the Justinian plague), and Don Fleming, adjunct professor of history, talked about how the Islamic World grappled with the second pandemic (what some people refer to as the Black Plague). Dr. Hwang also interviewed Brad Goodner, Ph.D., director of the School of Health and Medical Humanities, on the differences between bacterium and viruses, as well as Tom Koehnle, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, and Jennifer Clark, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, on the existence of yersinia pestis (medieval plague bacteria) in our current world.

By working in a blended classroom with both online and in-person portions, Hwang was able to extend students knowledge on the current pandemic, while also facing the restrictions COVID-19 brings. Hwang’s students can now compare how modern society is handling the pandemic versus how past civilizations handled their own, unlocking new skills to face the urgent challenges of their times.