The 2022 Maurice Bond Lecture – Covid and the Historian

The BRA’s Maurice Bond Memorial Lecture, delayed by Covid, was delivered at Guildhall Library on 23 February 2022. The speaker was Martin Daunton, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at the University of Cambridge and Visiting Professor at Gresham College. His subject was ‘Covid and the Historian’.

In a wide-ranging survey, Professor Daunton reflected on how the experience of the Covid pandemic will cause historians to look afresh at past crises, with greater understanding and from a new standpoint. The 1919 epidemic of Spanish Flu was one of his examples. He found it strange that scholars writing soon after the event more or less ignored Spanish Flu in their near-contemporary accounts. This was worth examining afresh.

He also discussed how important it is to ensure that there are adequate records of the Covid pandemic for the future. He was keen to ensure that there were detailed records to explain one day why the death rates in different parts of the UK were not only far different from each other, but also much worse than several comparable European countries. He was also keen to see the informal WhatsApp messages and thoughts of protagonists such as Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance preserved for the future, so that we can understand how information came in, and plans were developed. We will also be able to see how mistakes were made, as they must have been, on the basis of the information that was available at the time. It was also important to ensure that there were adequate records to prevent myth becoming accepted fact. For instance, was it true for Downing Street to assert that it had “got all the big calls right” about Covid?

Over 45 people attended the Lecture, which was preceded by the award of the 2021 Harley Prize, Dr Amy Erickson. We hope that a version of the lecture will be published in due course in Archives, the journal of the BRA.

Two women, one holding a certificate, another a drinking glass, wearing a red scarf

Dr Amy Erickson on the left, winner of the 2021 Harley Prize

Thanks to BRA Council member Stephen Freeth and BRA Chair Matti Watton for this write-up, and BRA Secretary Amanda Engineer for the photographs.