Polymathic Pizza: Quarantine
"I loved being able to leave a Polymathic Pizza with some interesting anecdote about the telecom industry or medieval urban planning." ~ Austin Welsh, Harman Fellow 2015
“We quarantine at points of encounter… and inequality is always baked into quarantine.” ~ Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley
“I’ll be honest: this past year and a half has been difficult as an Asian American. I can still clearly recall the day in March when my neighbors decided to call my parents “Chinese virus,” as they were grabbing our mail.” ~ USC Trojan Sophomore, 2021
If our Harman Fellow Austin above attends this polymathic pizza session on quarantine, (which I hope he does!) he will likely leave the meeting feeling pretty satisfied. Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley’s prescient and timely book, Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine is in part an urban, spatial, and technological study that tracks the utility of quarantine from the Black Plague of the 1300s through the novel viruses in our future. But sadly, the authors discovered, “quarantine also emerges from a state of suspicion, fear, uncertainty, and otherness. The USC sophomore above also shared this:
“My mother told me to be careful and keep my distance from others; to make myself non-threatening, and to appear as “American” as possible. In mid-July, a white woman screamed at me while I was running to inform me that she still felt unsafe in my socially distanced presence.”
Quarantine, which translated means “forty days,” is one of humanity’s oldest and most consistent responses to epidemic disease, yet is packed with theological, social, and cultural underpinnings. “It works by separating people suspected of carrying disease from people thought to be well,” Manaugh and Twilley note, “but it opens up entire worlds of philosophical uncertainty, ethical risk, and the potential abuse of political power.” Former US President Donald Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” influenced how the general public implicitly viewed the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and empowered the student’s neighbors’ ugliness above. In history through to the present moment, quarantine has been employed against women, immigrants, homosexuals ~ anyone considered the “other” or unsafe. Yet quarantine remains an important arsenal in our battle against future contagions. We invite you to join Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley in conversation to challenge and refine notions of quarantine, until proven safe for everyone.