In the months following the outbreak of COVID-19, schools and universities in China faced the temporary closure of their campuses. In January and February, teaching was carried out in asynchronous methods under new conditions that are now being experienced all around the world. Scholars at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science responded to a Peking University Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (IHSS) request for guest lecture videos. Working with them in these earlier months gave the MPIWG scholars unique insight about the importance of mobile digital connectivity for asynchronous teaching as the students participated in lectures on schedules suited to them, regardless of where they were — in their dormitories on campus or with their families — wherever they were in China when the crisis started. Over the next several days, the Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective will introduce some of these guest lecture materials produced by MPIWG scholars Martina Schlünder, Mengmeng Sun, Shih-Pei Chen, and Edna Bonhomme, which individually and collectively address how humanities research (including digital humanities) puts the pandemic into historical context.


Pandemic Fears: Reflections upon epidemics, public health, and scientific practice

Edna Bonhomme introduces her research approach and public engagement practices to students in a “guest-speaker” style video. Taking the form of a one-on-one video conversation rather than a strict lecture, Bonhomme explains how she traces epidemics, public health, and scientific practice in Alexandria, Tripoli and Tunis. The movement of disease through ports in North Africa and the Middle East shows how categories of disease and data collection are linked to postcolonial conceptualizations of health and power produce new bionic beings. Bonhomme also discusses the responsibility that historians have to reflect upon how knowledge was once represented and embodied in colonial and postcolonial contexts, especially with respect to race, gender, and class. Students can be invited to try out similar kinds of reflections about historical materials. Guided exploration of and experimentation with different ways to productively and responsibly draw upon history should help deepen understandings of the social and epistemological conditions that have underwritten human and more than human experiences today.


Below is a list of resources mentioned in this video. Items below may be suitable for reading and analysis.

More about Edna Bonhomme

Edna Bonhomme’s Dissertation, Plagued Bodies and Spaces: Medicine, Trade, and Death in Ottoman Egypt and Tunisia, 1705-1830 CE


Recent Articles by Bonhomme:

“Racism: The most dangerous ‘pre-existing condition,'” Aljazeera

“What coronavirus has taught us about inequality,” Aljazeera

“Ill Will,” The Baffler

“The Racial Politics of ‘Return’,” The Nation


Other Articles and Books:

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower



Data for Black Lives



Decolonization in Action Podcast

Haymarket Book Teach-in

Jadaliyya Politics in the Time of Corona



Cartographies of Care

Scan the Difference 


Edna Bonhomme is a historian of science, lecturer, art worker, and writer whose work interrogates the archaeology of (post)colonial science, embodiment, and surveillance in the Middle East and North Africa. A central question of her work asks: what makes people sick. As a researcher, she answers this question by exploring the spaces and modalities of care and toxicity that shape the possibility for repair. Using testimony and materiality, she creates sonic and counter-archives for the African diaspora in hopes that it can be used to construct diasporic futures. Her practices trouble how people perceive modern plagues and how they try to escape from them. She is currently working on two projects. The first, “Excavating Colonial Toxicities and Futurisms in African Metropolises,” explores how bad air is coalesced into four African cities. The second project, “Biometrics of Care” explores (health)care of African descended people living in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna. Edna earned her Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 2017 and she is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and currently lives in Berlin, Germany. She has written for Aljazeera, The Baffler, The Nation, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter at jacobinoire



Asynchronously Teaching about Humanities Research with COVID-19 “Pandemic Fears: Reflections Upon Epidemics, Public Health, and Scientific Practice” :: Edna Bonhomme (Germany)
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