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.


Sept. 16: Joseph Manning, Classics, History, and Law, Yale University,
“Climate and Society from Egypt to India to China: A Regional Crisis at 160BCE?”
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
Author of The Open Sea: The Economic Life of the Ancient Mediterranean World from the Iron Age to the Rise of Rome (Princeton, 2018).

Register here.

Abstract: The 160’s BCE was the critical decade in Ptolemaic history. Environmental factors have never been considered until now in the understanding of social dynamics, or in the economic, military and fiscal history of the dynasty. The decade has often been marked as the beginning of serious state decline. The causes of this decline have often been identified: internal problems (ethnic tension between Greeks and Egyptians; over-extraction of resources leading to unrest, sometimes serious and sustained,, currency inflation), depravity of the kings themselves, and the increasing political and military domination of the Mediterranean by Rome. Polybius adds political neglect, moral decay, and Ptolemy IV’s love of opulence and a succession of young kings after Ptolemy IV. A new chronology of volcanic eruptions from polar ice core analysis affords us an opportunity to reevaluate historical dynamics within Egypt, to examine more critically how shocks to the annual Nile flood may or may not have played a role in “decline” and social unrest. Ice cores also allow us to tie events in Egypt to those across the Indian Ocean in the same years.

Oct. 7: Sarah Muir, Anthropology , CUNY Graduate Center.
“When Crisis Becomes Routine: Notes from Argentina, 2001-2022.”
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
Author of Routine Crisis: An Ethnography of Disillusion (2021).

Oct 28: Bedour Alagraa, African and African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin.
Live Streamed via Zoom, 3:30-5:00PM
Author of The Interminable Catastrophe, in preparation.

Nov. 18: Serhy Yekelchyk, History and Germanic & Slavic Studies, University of Victoria
“How Does New Imperial History Help Us Understand Putin’s War against Ukraine.”
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
Yekelchyk is the author of Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know (2020); Stalin’s Citizens: Everyday Politics in the Wake of Total War ( 2014); Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation (2007).


Jan. 18, 2023: Adam Tooze, History, Columbia University
Live Streamed via Zoom, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Author of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (2018); The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931  (2014); Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (2006).

Feb. 17: Edward Foley, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University.
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
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).

Feb. 24, 2023: Adia Benton, Cultural Anthropology, Northwestern University.
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall 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.

April 14, 2023: Ling Zhang, History, Boston College
A Hybrid Event: 168 Dulles Hall and Live Streamed, 3:30-5:00PM
Author of The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128 (2016).

PAST EVENTS – SPRING 2022 [Zoom and Hybrid events]

Media & Materiality: Category Crisis and Transitional Moments in East Asia and Eastern Europe Symposium
Thursday, March 3rd – Saturday, March 5th, 2022 

Cover of book minor apocalypseView the Program. Download the Program.

The language of “crisis” is pervasive in our neoliberal pandemic world, but the term is so capacious as to demand more rigorous scrutiny to become critically useful. The goal of our symposium is to theorize what crisis means at the level of lived experience, in the media and in the materialties that create historical subjectivities and relationalities. In other words, what happens when the mediated environments that we are enmeshed in are suddenly forced to function differently? When categories understood as structures (of feeling) and (medium) specificities come into question? Furthermore, if media and materialities mediate our experience, how do we account for media’s own crises at moments of historical shock? For example, what can we learn if we consider that the inflection point between socialism and postsocialism is also a moment in which film loses ground to video and data? How do we read a doubly critical crisis when the very thing that anchors us in specific historical life worlds changes at the same moment in which social structures shift? We are eager to untangle these interrelated meanings of crisis by turning to East Asia and Eastern Europe, two locales in which much of the 20th century was experienced as crisis and shock and whose careful study can help us develop historical methods and theoretical tools necessary to understand an age of crisis.

This event is cosponsored by the OSU Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme, the CHR, the Department of History, the East Asian Center, and the Slavic, East European and Eurasian Center

All times are given in eastern time. Registration links to events held on each day:

Media & Materiality 3/3/22: Keynote

Media & Materiality 3/4/22: Panels 1-3

Media & Materiality 3/5/22: Panel 4 and Methods Workshop

Friday, January 21, 2022 – Michael Berry, Professor, Modern Chinese Literature and Film, UCLA;
“Translation Diary: Disinformation Campaigns, US-China Relations, and COVID19.”
Zoom Event, 3:30-5:00PM
Co-sponsored with the Institute of Chinese Studies.
Author of A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (New York, 2008).
Video of this presentation is available for a limited time here.

Abstract: Wuhan Diary by Fang Fang began as a blog which ran for sixty days from January 25 through March 25, 2020, documenting the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. The blog quickly became an online phenomenon, attracting tens of millions of Chinese readers. Wuhan Diary also provided an important portal for Chinese around the world to understand the outbreak, the local response, and how the novel coronavirus was impacting everyday people. The diary featured a curious mixture of quotidian details from Fang Fang’s daily routine under quarantine, medical insights from the author’s doctor friends, and brave observations about the official response. Eventually, Fang Fang’s account would become the target of a series of online attacks by “ultra-nationalists,” spawning debate about COVID-19, Sino-US Relations, and nature of civil society in China. As the English translator of Wuhan Diary, this lecture will alternate between first-hand insights from the translation process and broader observations on how the diary became a lightning rod for fierce political debate in China, ultimately hinting at the power of writing.

Friday, February 11, 2022 – Jacob Soll, Professor and Professor of Philosophy, History and Accounting at the University of Southern California
“Crisis, Accounting, and Accountability in the French Revolution.”
A Zoom Event, 3:30-5:00PM
Author of The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations (New York, 2014).

Abstract: There have been numerous attempts to explain the origins of the French Revolution, and the politics that took place during event.  However, historians have ignored that a crisis in public finance and accounting was the central spark of the Revolution.  Indeed, I discovered a trove of pamphlets that show just how focused French leaders and the public were on questions of accounting and accountability, and that, for the first years of the Revolution, attempts to improve accounting and public balance sheets were at the fore of the political actions of the first revolutionary governments. However, this was not an isolated event. Early modern Europe saw a number of political crises emerge over accounting and accountability so that we might see the two subjects as central to a useful approach in looking at the origins and mechanisms of financial and political crises in general.

Friday, February 25, 2022 – Julia Keblinska, The East Asian/Slavic, East European and Eurasian CHR Crisis Post-Doctoral Fellow:
Genres of Crisis: Cinema at the Brink of Postsocialism”
A Hybrid Event, 3:30-5:00PM
Keblinska earned her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley in 2021, in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Her dissertation is titled “New Era, New Media: The Postsocialist Chinese Media Ecology.”

Abstract: The lauded Polish art film of late socialism and the cinematic avant garde that emerges during the Chinese transition to postsocialism deal with the failure of the socialist project and in this talk stage a collapse of a certain generic expectations. These films mediate, and to a degree, “premediate” the looming crisis of historical transition that would rock both nations on June 4th, 1989. In the former case, the date marks Poland’s democratic elections that led to the dismantling of the socialist system, and in the latter, the Tiananmen massacre that violently reconfigured the future of Chinese socialism into neoliberal autocracy. Indeed the coevolution of these two June 4ths vis a vis the collapse of the Soviet Union is provocatively explored by perhaps the most well-known public intellectual of crisis, Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine. In this talk, I consider the political and economic aesthetics described by Klein, but read these two postsocialist transitions comparatively through the forms and aesthetics of media that, quite simply, mediated them.

Scholarship on the “high culture fever” of early postsocialist China (1978-1989) repeatedly notes the significance of Polish texts, be they philosophical reconsiderations of socialist humanism or the “cinema of moral anxiety” (kino moralnego niepokoju) and absurdity that gave such doubts visual form. In the first part of the talk, I will show how the late socialist “high anxieties” of such elite texts manifest cinematically in director Huang Jianxin’s modernist oeuvre to repeatedly stage breakdowns and collapses across several genres (comedy, sci fi, noir) that Huang creatively infuses with the late socialist anxiety that suffused Polish film production of that period. I will then use Huang as a pivot away from a comparative reading of high registers into new territory that considers the importance of low genres, pulp cinema, circulated in both Poland and China on VHS to the consternation of both national film industries. Ultimately, I suggest that the explosion of multiple new genres on non-cinematic audiovisual media precipitates not only a crisis of socialist cinema in the face of new histories and new markets, but also creates postsocialist subjects who learn to navigate the political media ecologies of postsocialist transition by recourse to new generic modes.

Friday, March 25, 2022 – Stephen Kern, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Department of History, Ohio State University
Chris Otter, Department of History (commentator)
“Pace in the Internet Age”
Video of this talk is available here.

Abstract: Commentators judge that new speedy communication, transportation, and production technologies over the past forty years have created many unforeseen problems including unemployment, mental illness, alienation, addiction, and environmental degradation, problems that some interpret as crises. This paper traces dialectically the impact of these new accelerating technologies from 1880 to the present and shows how they also stimulated new thinking about and experiences of slower paces. It argues that a fuller understanding of an acceleration of experience should interpret how contrasting paces as faster or slower arise out of each other. The new technologies also increased choices for whatever pace was appropriate for many human needs, presto or adagio, that those increasing choices had positive existential value.


Friday, September 10, 2021 – Roberto Barrios
, Professor of Anthropology, University of New Orleans
“A Crisis for Whom? Epistemologies, Historiographies, and Praxis in Times of Upheaval” 
View a video of this presentation. (Available for a limited time.)
Professor Barrios is the author of Governing Affect: Neoliberalism and Disaster Reconstruction (Nebraska, 2017)
This talk is co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology.
Read the abstract.

Friday, October 1, 2021 – Robin Wagner-Pacifici, University Professor of Sociology at the New School for Social Research
“Double Exposure: Pandemic and Protest in 2020”
View a video of this presentation. (Available for a limited time.)
Professor Wagner-Pacifici is the author of What Is an Event? (Chicago, 2017)
This event is co-sponsored by the OSU Office of Diversity
Read the abstract.

Friday, October 22, 2021 – Chad Wellmon, Univ. of Virginia and Paul Reitter, Ohio State Univ., in conversation with Ying Zhang, Ohio State Univ.
“Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age”
View a video of this presentation. (Available for a limited time.)
Read the abstract.

Friday, October 29, 2021 – Anna Tsing, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
“Is the Anthropocene amenable to historical analysis? Feral Atlas for historians”
View a video of this presentation. (Available for a limited time.)
This event was co-sponsored by the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme and the Department of Anthropology.
Anna Tsing is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, where she is the director of the Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene. Tsing is the author of The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, 2015) and the co-creator of The Feral Anthropocene
This event is co-sponsored by the Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme and the Department of Anthropology.
Read the abstract.

Friday, November 19, 2021 – Geoffrey Parker, Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History and Associate of the Mershon Center, Ohio State University
and Adam Izdebski, Independent Research Group Leader, Palaeo-Science and History Research Group, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
“Climate Change, Crisis, and Resilience in The Pre-Modern World”
Zoom event: 1:30-3:00 p.m.: Please note our special time for this event.
View a video of this presentation. (Available for a limited time.)
Professor Parker is the author of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale, 2013), and Emperor: A new life of Charles V (Yale, 2019). Dr. Izdebski is a widely published historical climatologist specializing in the Ancient to early modern Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.
Read the abstract.



Painting - Julius Caesar Assassin Ides of March
CHR-Crisis Steering Committee:
John Brooke, History, Series Chair and CHR Director
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,