From the Black Death to Covid-19: what history can teach us about managing crises and coming out stronger | Prospect Magazine

Whether the plague, the world wars or now coronavirus, serious crises reorder societies. With effort and imagination, can we shake off a nightmare and wake ourselves into a brighter tomorrow?

It is never too early in a crisis to search the past for insight about what we might be doing right or wrong. If we use history wisely, drawing on insights from the many and varied catastrophes of the past from wars and plagues to financial meltdowns, we can put our present crisis in perspective, and perhaps also give ourselves hope. After all, societies can and do recover from disasters, and those willing to learn from them can mitigate or even avoid reruns. 

Even more importantly, knowledge of history gives us the capacity to ask questions and to imagine alternative courses of action. This matters a great deal because in a crisis things are prone to move fast, and so it is critical to be nimble enough to change our minds and direction rapidly.

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