Fall 2020, Fall 2021

Fall semester 2020 was momentous for many reasons, including: the global pandemic; the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and record voter turnout; the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the awarding of a posthumous Pulitzer Prize to Ida B. Wells-Barnett; and a global fight against racism.

A year later, the coronavirus pandemic continued with a fourth wave and global citizens learned about variants such as Delta and Omicron. Exhaustion and a feeling of sameness made it difficult to recall key events in 2021, such as the joy that many experienced when the vaccines became available in early 2021; the riot at the US Capitol on Jan. 6; the second impeachment of former Pres. Donald Trump; cataclysmic weather events; private space flights; the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympic Games; the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan; inflation and labor and supply-chain shortages; and the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

University of Utah students enrolled in Mass Communication History simultaneously learned about history and communication history, even as they were a part of local, national, and international events.

Their final research project explored connections between past and present. Students researched a historical medical event—an outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic—and compared/contrasted coverage of it with reports about the current pandemic. By exploring primary sources published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications, students discovered recurring themes and topics including: fear, stigma, the race to develop vaccines, masking/anti-masking, and patriotism.

Students created web pages using Adobe Express to share and discuss their research. We invite you to read and share some of the terrific projects.

• Abbie Armstrong studied “Typhoid Mary”—Mary Mallon. The New York City resident was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. She was forcibly quarantined for years. Abbie illustrates how historical themes of fear, anxiety, and personal responsibility are evident today in discussions of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

• Elizabeth Dempsey explored the similarities in health advertising during the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was discovered in New York and San Francisco, and the current pandemic. Liz found messages of fear, protection, stigma, and awareness.

Kelsie Foreman also studied Mary Mallon, the asymptomatic carrier of typhoid who worked and lived in New York City in the early 1900s. Kelsie compared coverage of “Typhoid Mary” to current reports about “silent spreaders” of the novel coronavirus.

• The 1918 flu, commonly termed the “Spanish flu,” ravaged Philadelphia. That city also has suffered during the current pandemic. Gretchen McConkie juxtaposed coverage of those events to illustrate recurring themes of racism, patriotism, and fear.

• Polio, also called infantile paralysis and poliomyelitis, was a devastating seasonal illness in the United States before the country was finally certified as polio-free in 1994. Kenzie Wilkinson explored the events of 1952 to 1956 and the parallels to our current coronavirus pandemic. She writes, “The polio epidemic showed that there will always be contrasting views on matters as serious as vaccines. There will always be fear associated with the unknown. Luckily this is why we have both government and medical leaders to help us have confidence in the decisions we make to protect ourselves and our families.”