Day 10, March 25 2020


Lockdown in all but name. In Lehigh county, where I live, the amount of cases keeps increasing. It’s not anywhere near as bad as the stories you see from NYC, but I am glad we are taking measures before we get there. I haven’t really been out much in the past ten days. Yesterday’s trip to the supermarket was nerve-racking, I am not used to being on high alert throughout a grocery run, and then wondering the rest of the day where I might have picked up a trace of virus despite frantic handwashing, chloroxing and plain common sense of not touching anything beyond the absolutely necessary. Today, it’s the same after I went to campus to pick up the last books that I think I’ll need for the foreseeable future. Although as I type that phrase, it sounds hollow: nothing about the future is foreseeable. There are rumours and glimmers of hope, but no certainty, and I find it difficult to cope with. So I try not to dwell on the reasons why I have to change my teaching to remote mode.

I probably should change the phrasing in step one of the “bite-by-bite” guide for the end-of-semester projects. I mention in the Project Pitch that “you are not yet locked in”. But now my students are, I guess, just not in the way I envisioned. The project pitches that I saw give me hope, though: they were thoughtfully articulated, and showed students thinking like historians. A key component of my teaching and research is showing that history is an interpretation of the past, and that there are changes over time, and between groups who all claim ownership of a slice of the past. A few students also want to work on daily life and experiences of common people during times of upheaval, such as the Korean war, or the Japanese occupation of Korea. I guess the ancient Chinese image of history as a mirror still works. We see and seek ourselves in the past, and shape it to make sense of the world we live in. Traditionally East Asian court officials (historians among them) did that in the political realm. I think the study of history in our present moment can help to find out we’re not alone. Just like we read the books and watch the movies about the end of civilization as we know it, studying such junctures in different cultures and times may not lead us to despair, but rather to insights in the multifarious ways that humans have dealt with the end of civilization as they knew it. There is something comforting in knowing that we are not the first, that we are not alone, that we are humans, and that we can connect to the past through our own humanity.

Image of Sima Guang, a government officials and historian in 11th century China
Sima Guang (1019-1086), who wrote the voluminous chronicle _Comprehensive Mirror as an Aid to Government_, covering the period 403BCE-959CE.

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