Crisis, Uncertainty, and History: Trajectories and Experiences of Accelerated Change

Thousands of protesters gather at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Seattle

The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research
2021-2023 Series

Historians study trajectories of change through time. We are concerned with the pace and causes of change and we are concerned with its experiential impact and societal outcomes. And sometimes change accelerates, in a swirl of dynamic interactions that take us by surprise, leading us out of routines into unfamiliar spaces.

The CHR presents a two-year series on the problem of crisis in history. This series was launched in the spring of 2020 by the sudden challenges and uncertainties in our recent and ongoing experience with the Covid-19 pandemic: our opening conversations revolved around the sudden impact of epidemic disease but soon broadened out into a consideration of the more general nature of crisis. Since our first conversations the explosive sequence of events unfolding with the death of George Floyd, the 2020 election, global fires and floods attributed to anthropogenic climate warming, and most recently the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan have made our inquiry into the dynamics of crisis all the more pressing. We hope that as the series begins the public and academy will want to engage in an assessment of our longer moment of crisis, and to situate in into a sequence of conditions, impacts, and consequences: what we might call the “before, during, and after” of the events of 2020-2021.  We hope that our presentations over these two years will help up with this assessment of these recent experiences, as well as those of people in moments of crisis in times past.

2022-2023 EVENTS

We are happy to announce that the following scholars will be presenting in our 2022-2023 CHR-Crisis Series.

The series will feature the following events, some hybrid, some live-streamed only.

SPRING 2023:

Ed FoleyFriday, Feb. 17: Edward Foley, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University
“The Unrepresentativeness of American Elections: How the United States Developed Electoral Structures that Defeat the Preferences of the Electorate”
A Hybrid Event: 165 Thompson Library and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM


Despite the expectation that elections are designed to identify the preferences of voters, American elections have evolved in ways that distort the translation of inputs into outputs, so that the results of which candidates win no longer match the candidates that the voters would most prefer to win. Gerrymandering is one practice that has developed with increasing intensity over recent decades to magnify the disparity between the electorate’s preferences and winning candidates. Equally important, but less well understood, is the way that primary elections cause the defeat of candidates whom the general election voters would most prefer to win. Once the distorting features of America’s election procedures are understood, it is possible to consider procedural reforms that would enable elections to produce results that voters actually want.

Edward Foley is author of Presidential Elections and Majority Rule (2020), Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States (2016) drafted Principles of Law: Non-Precinct Voting and Resolution of Ballot-Counting Disputes, and co-author of Election Law and Litigation: The Judicial Regulation of Politics (2014).

Event co-sponsored by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies.

Adia BentonFriday, Feb. 24: Adia Benton, Cultural Anthropology, Northwestern University
“On Pandemic Potential”
A Hybrid Event: Research Commons 3rd floor, 18th Avenue Library and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM


Author of HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone ( 2015), Winner, 2017 Rachel Carson Prize, Society for The Social Studies of Science.

Event co-sponsored by the College of Public Health and the Department of African and African American Studies.

In the aftermath of the West African Ebola crisis, the World Bank along with WHO, reinsurers and a catastrophic risk modeling firm, developed the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The aim of the PEF was to leverage private investment to rapidly finance pandemic emergency responses in poor countries. The construction and design of the PEF hinges upon a definition and formal mathematical rendering of what they’ve described as ‘pandemic potential.’ Pandemic potential—the idea that certain pathogens are more likely than others to cause mass sickness across national borders and over a short period of time — signals a particular relationship between pathogens and public health scientists’ prophetic relation to the past. While much has been written about temporal ideologies governing pandemic preparedness and discourse, less has been said about the categories of person/human and place/geographies that ‘pandemic potential’ also presumes and produces. In this conversation, I hope to discuss what all of this means in relation to race, finance capital, and geography, via a close reading of the bond’s documentation, interviews with key players in the development of the bond, and other critical analyses of the public health’s financialization.

Ling ZhangFriday, April 14: Ling Zhang, History, Boston College
“Seventy Meters Below Is My Home: Geotrauma and Earthly Memories of East China”
A hybrid event: Research Commons 3rd floor, 18th Avenue Library and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
Author The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128 (2016).


Event co-sponsored by the Institute for Chinese Studies and the East Asian Studies Center.

This talk introduces part of my new book entitled 108 Meters. The Xin’an river valley in east China historically sustained an affluent society with a dense human population. When a major dam was installed in the river in the mid-twentieth century, the valley experienced a dramatic transformation. The transformation was first and foremost geological. Following that was the changes to the physical, socioeconomic, and emotional relationships between people and the land that went under water. Seventy years have gone by. Mourning of the lost land has passed on across three generations. It has evolved into diverse forms and prompted different actions. The various earthly memories those men and women have made and continue making, as my oral history and ethnography reveal, are reshaping that watery world, especially in the new historical context of environmental degradation, resource shortage, and climate change.

Born and raised in a river town in east China, Ling Zhang studied literature, philosophy, and history at Peking University in China and economic and environmental history at University of Cambridge. Her first book The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) received the 2017 George Perkins Marsh Prize for the Best Book in Environmental History by the American Society for Environmental History. Ling is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Shanxi University in China. With John McNeill, she co-edits the “Studies in Environment and History” book series published by Cambridge University Press. As an associate researcher at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, she convenes a research series called “Environment in Asia.”

View past events in this series here.


Painting - Julius Caesar Assassin Ides of March
CHR-Crisis Steering Committee:
Sara Butler, History, CHR Director
John Brooke, History, Series Chair
Joan Cashin, History
Jeffrey Cohen, Anthropology
Amy Fairchild, Dean of Public Health
Anthony Kaldellis, Classics
Peter Mansoor, History
Dorothy Noyes, English and Comparative Studies
Chris Otter, History
Paul Reitter, Germanic Languages and Literatures
Tina Sessa, History
Jennifer Siegel, History
Sarah Van Beurden, History
Ying Zhang, History

Please send any inquiries regarding this program to John Brooke,