Rethinking Health and Power during Times of Crisis

Oct 29, 2020

Part 2 of Virtual Panel Series Racism in History and Context | 3pm - 4:30pm ET | Panelists: Manuela Boatcă (University of Freiburg), Teresa Koloma Beck (Bundeswehr University Munich), Monica Muñoz Martinez (UT Austin), and Kathryn Olivarius (Stanford) | Moderators: Elisabeth Engel (GHI Washington) and Leti Volpp (UC Berkeley)

This is part 2 of the panel series “Racism in History and Context” presented by the German Historical Association, the German Historical Institute Washington and its Pacific Regional Office, and the Institute of European Studies at University of California, Berkeley

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The risk of physical harm posed by both the coronavirus pandemic and US police officers’ ongoing willingness to use violence against African Americans has been quickly conceived as a major feature of the current crisis. Governments and citizens in the U.S., Europe, and beyond squarely agree that ethnic and racial minorities are disproportionately imperiled due to longstanding and systemic disadvantages. We observe a long tradition of this phenomenon. Crises and, foremost, pandemics reveal predetermined breaking points of societies, including structural racism. Going back to the 14th century with the outbreak of the bubonic plague, pandemics have exposed social bias. Due to such structures, people have shaped starkly different and clashing responses to pandemics. Currently, apparent racial disparities in access to physical safety prompt fierce protest movements among citizens, on the one hand, and strong measures to control them on the part of governments and local authorities, on the other. Thus, health and power are at stake on either side of the conflict.

The panel aims to inquire into the role of racism in the history of epidemics and the history of state violence. This brings to light very specific problems in the various countries. Even though the overall phenomenon has characteristic features in every society, it is the result of specific historical processes and must therefore be understood and discussed in the respective historical contexts. Thus, the German Historical Association (Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands e.V., VHD), the German Historical Institute Washington with its Pacific Regional Office, and the Institute of European Studies at University of California, Berkeley, have invited Manuela Boatcă (University of Freiburg), Teresa Koloma Beck (Bundeswehr University Munich), Monica Muñoz Martinez (UT Austin), and Kathryn Olivarius (Stanford) to trace the ways in which racism has figured as an aspect of their respective subjects of research.

The event is part two of the panel-discussion series “Racism in History and Context,” which brings together scholars from various fields to explore the histories of racism that have been constructed in current debates about the coronavirus pandemic and violent police confrontations. What and who defines the deeper and historically longer-term contexts of the present phenomenon? How do the various discourses and memories of racist violence differ in quite diverse national contexts and narratives, and what interdependencies can we discern? How do social and cultural tensions take form under the pressure of condemning racism in moments and historical narratives of crises? The first panel "Rethinking Memory and Knowledge during Times of Crisis" is available on our Vimeo channel

About the Organizers


The German Historical Association (VHD) is the representative organ of German historical scholarship in the public. The core task of the VHD is to organize the Biennial Convention of German Historians (“Historikertag”) – one of the largest conferences in the humanities in Europe, most recently with more than 4,000 participants. As a lobby group, the VHD is committed to the interests of its members in a variety of ways and, as a professional association, is in constant dialogue with universities, university-related institutions, and society. The VHD currently has about 3,400 members.

The German Historical Institute Washington (GHI) is a center for advanced historical research. Working with junior and senior scholars around the world, the GHI facilitates dialogue and scholarly collaboration across national and disciplinary boundaries. The GHI was established in 1987 as an independent non-profit foundation. Since 2002 it has been part of the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland (Max Weber Foundation – International Humanities Institutes Abroad), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, which coordinates an international network of humanities institutes. In 2017, the GHI opened its Pacific Regional Office on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, to foster cooperation with a myriad of world-class scholars and renowned research institutions on the West Coast, and to extend its public outreach effort there.

The Institute of European Studies (IES) at the University of California, Berkeley, is the leading center for research and education on Europe in the Western United States, and among the top three such organizations in the U.S. Through interdisciplinary public events, research programs, grant opportunities, and community outreach, IES seeks to enrich America's understanding of Europe – its people, developments and challenges – at Berkeley and throughout the state of California.