Source: Perry Grone
This is a really good article about previous pandemics. It’s an interview with Frank Snowden, professor emeritus at Yale, who wrote a book about this very question. How Pandemics Change History.
The summary to your question – “Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. That is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment—the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds. They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people, and we’re seeing that today.”
And here are some pertinent and interesting parts: (1) “The outbreak of the plague, for example, raised the whole question of man’s relationship to God.”; (2) “Bubonic plague killed half the population of full continents and, therefore, had a tremendous effect on the coming of the industrial revolution, on slavery and serfdom.”; (3) “Epidemics also, as we’re seeing now, have tremendous effects on social and political stability. They’ve determined the outcomes of wars, and they also are likely to be part of the start of wars sometimes.”; (4) “Indeed, novels are also written about these major events. It affects our literature and our culture. I’m thinking of the great plague novel, which is “The Betrothed,” by the Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni. “…Other diseases provoke different responses. One could talk about tuberculosis, and how different it was in the Romantic period, in the nineteenth century. That’s really an odd one, because, to me, tuberculosis is one of the most gruesome and painful ways to die, where, in the end, you asphyxiate, and yet, on the other hand, you’ll have it glorified with operatic heroines on the stage who are perceived as beautiful. Or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which is not only about slavery. It’s also about tuberculosis.; (5) “I’m thinking about the end of chattel slavery in the New World. That and the success of the Haitian rebellion and Toussaint Louverture was determined, above all, by yellow fever. When Napoleon sent the great armada to restore slavery in Haiti, the slave rebellion succeeded because the slaves from Africa had immunity that white Europeans who were in Napoleon’s army didn’t have. It led to Haitian independence. Also, if one thinks from the American point of view, this was what led to Napoleon’s decision to abandon projecting French power in the New World and therefore to agree, with Thomas Jefferson, in 1803, to the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States.”