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American National Red Cross photograph collection (Library of Congress)

Pandemics in American History will take a comprehensive look at the various pandemics that have plagued our nation since its inception, providing context for today's crisis. We will examine the diseases, responses, and leadership during various key moments in our nation's collective health, as well as the outcomes that arguably may have changed the trajectory of history.

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James Hamblin, M.D. Moderator

Dr. Hamblin is a board-certified preventive medicine physician, staff writer at The Atlantic, and lecturer at Yale School of Public Health. He is the author of Clean (Riverhead, 2020), which was named an editor’s pick by the New York Times Book Review and was the subject of profiles in The New YorkerThe GuardianThe Wall Street JournalThe New York PostThe Telegraph, and Columbia Journalism ReviewVanity Fair named Clean among the best books of 2020.

His writing and videos have been featured in The New York TimesPoliticoNPRThe GuardianElleMother JonesThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times, and Marketplace, among others. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, BBC, and on The Late Show with Stephen ColbertTime named him among the 140 people to follow on Twitter, and BuzzFeed called him "the most delightful MD ever," though he is not as delightful as William Carlos Williams.

Hamblin previously hosted the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk, for which he was a finalist in the Webby awards for Best Web Personality. He is a also past Yale University Poynter Fellow in journalism, and he has lectured at Harvard Medical School, Columbia University School of Public Health, Wharton Business School, SXSW, Aspen Ideas Festival, and TED MED, among others.

After graduating medical school at Indiana University in 2009, he did three years of residency in radiology at UCLA before joining The Atlantic to develop a health section and write. He later completed a residency in general preventive medicine and public health at Yale. And if you’re somehow still curious, there’s more on all of this at Columbia Journalism ReviewThe Washington PostThe GuardianJournal of the American College of Radiology, and Politico, and, of course, in the book.

John M. Barry Panelist

John M. Barry is a prize-winning and New York Times best-selling author whose books have won multiple awards. The National Academies of Sciences named his 2004 book The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history, a study of the 1918 pandemic, the year's outstanding book on science or medicine. His earlier book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, won the Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians for the year's best book of American history and in 2005 the New York Public Library named it one of the 50 best books in the preceding 50 years, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His books have also been embraced by experts in applicable fields: in 2006 he became the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academies Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture, a lecture which honors contributions to water-related science, and he was the only non-scientist on a federal government Infectious Disease Board of Experts. He has served on numerous boards, including ones at M.I.T's Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Society of American Historians. His latest book is Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the New England Society Book Award. 

His articles have appeared in such scientific journals as Nature and Journal of Infectious Disease as well as in lay publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fortune, Time, Newsweek, and Esquire. A frequent guest on every broadcast network in the US, he has appeared on such shows as NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's World News, and NPR's All Things Considered, and on such foreign media as the BBC and Al Jazeera. He has also served as a consultant for Sony Pictures and contributed to award-winning television documentaries. 

Before becoming a writer, Barry coached football at the high school, small college, and major college levels. Currently Distinguished Scholar at Tulane's Bywater Institute and a professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, he lives in New Orleans.

Elizabeth Fenn, Ph.D. Panelist

Professor Fenn studies the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. 

Some of the courses she teaches at the University of Colorado - Boulder include: "American History before 1865," "Epidemic Disease in U.S. History," "The Revolutionary War," and a seminar in called "Discovering Lewis and Clark." In September 2018, in recognition of exemplary teaching, research and service, the Regents of the University of Colorado designated Professor Fenn a Distinguished Professor, one of the highest honors awarded to the university’s faculty members.

Professor Fenn earned her B.A. at Duke and her Ph.D. at Yale. Her Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (Hill & Wang, 2002) unearthed the devastating effects of a smallpox epidemic that coursed across North America during the years of the American Revolution. In 2014, Fenn published Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People (Hill & Wang), which analyzes Mandan Indian history from 1100 to 1845. For her work, Fenn received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History and a 2019 Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Fenn is also the coauthor, with Peter H. Wood, of Natives and Newcomers: The Way We Lived in North Carolina before 1770 (The University of North Carolina Press, 1983) a popular history of early North Carolina. Professor Fenn is currently at work on an expansive biography of Sacagawea, using her life story to illuminate the wider history of the northern plains and Rockies.

Ashish K. Jha, M.D. Panelist

Ashish K. Jha, M.D., M.P.H., is the Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, having most recently served as K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI). He is a practicing General Internist and is also Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jha received his MD from Harvard Medical School and trained in Internal Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco. He completed his General Medicine fellowship at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and received his MPH from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Jha is a member of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

Dr. Jha’s research focuses on improving the quality and costs of healthcare systems with a specialized focus on the impact of policies. He has published over two hundred papers in prestigious journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and the BMJ, and heads a personal blog on using statistical data research to improve health quality. He has led groundbreaking research around Ebola and is now on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. Dr. Jha leads national analysis of key issues around the COVID-19 pandemic, advising policy makers and elected officials at the state and federal level and appearing frequently on national television news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, and in written coverage from national newspapers including the New York Times and the Washington Post. HGHI is providing critical analysis and data on national and state by state testing with Dr. Jha, a vocal advocate for increased testing and contact tracing who has written extensively on the subject. His work has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Health Affairs, the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and Stat News among others. 

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