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Human lives versus the economy: Prof. Peter Mancall writes for The Conversation

15 May 2020

Professor Peter Mancall, the Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History, draws parallels between the current discussions about how and when to reopen the American economy with disease outbreaks in the 17th century, in a recent article for The Conversation.

His article, entitled ‘As states weigh human lives versus the economy, history suggests the economy often wins’, argues that considerations for human life often lose out to economic imperatives in the wake of calamities.

‘As a historian of early America who has written about tobacco and the aftermath of an epidemic in New England, I’ve seen similar considerations made in the face of disease outbreaks,’ Peter writes. ‘And I believe that there are crucial lessons to be drawn from two 17th-century outbreaks during which economic interests of a select few won out over moral concerns.’

Peter is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at the University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. His research focuses on the history of early America, the early modern Atlantic world, the history of medicine, environmental history, and Native American history.