Saturday, April 18, 2020

Professor Mark

I was extraordinarily privileged in my association with each and every one of the the supervisors who taught me for a term, one on one, at Cambridge. They were knowledgeable and inspiring beyond any expectations I might have had, and I will of course add Dr Alastair Reid - my director of studies - to this personally-illustrious list. 

Three of them perhaps stand out for having not only given me a whole lot more to think about, but for having changed the way I think in general terms more permanently. 

One of them was Professor Mark Bailey, then merely a doc (yet perhaps more visibly on the wing for Cambridge and England), who taught me out of his rooms one cold winter at the Gonville & Caius annex at Harvey Court on blowy West Road. 

As a leading expert on plagues and their historical import, he finds himself in demand, and here helps initiate Dan Snow (OP)’s new streaming venture HistoryHit.TV  in the midst of lockdown. 

I’d advise interested viewers to focus on what the prof has to say about the Black Death and not so much on the slightly naff VCR handouts from YouTube, which concern themselves with a later, more limited, pandemic. 

Note how the 14th century plague was responsible for much of what now goes under the banner of liberal modernity, as well as more important stuff like girl power and the consumption of ale in England. 

Note too how the transmission of the pathogen can be traced as it wandered down the great old roads of yesteryear, demonstrating that it was us, not rodents (or indeed cats) that spread it. 

Except that US can often lead to a shedding of THEM. Here in Latin America it has become something of a given that covid-19 is a disease of the wealthy and (mostly) alien, infecting people who move faster and further than indigenes. I seem to be getting dirty looks on the streets every time I venture into town. 

In this era of hyper-accelerated globalisation we occasionally forget that the majority of our species still moves at the pace of their ancestors. 

Examine the pattern of SARS-Cov-2 infection within Guatemala and you can reach one of only two conclusions. Either the far flung departments with almost no positives are simply not in a position to test, or the pestilence is marching up and down the Panamerican Highway in a manner that historians like Professor Mark would recognise. 

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