Archive for abril 2020

We're History

We’re History es una bitácora dedicada a la historia de Estados Unidos cuya particularidad es que da espacio a analistas académicos y no académicos. Su objetivo es entender cómo Estados Unidos ha llegado a ser la nación que hoy es.

En su edición del 15 de abril de 2020, We´re History publica un trabajo de Peter H. Wood titulado “Infection Unperceiv’d, in Many a Place”: The London Plague of 1625, Viewed from Plymouth Rock«.  Wood analiza el impacto de la plaga de peste bubónica que mató a 40,000 londinenses en 1625, en el desarrollo de la colonia de Plymouth. Fundada por los Puritanos en 1620, Plymouth fue el segunda asemtamiento europeo exitoso en lo que hoy conocemos como Estados Unidos.

En nuestro contexto de pandemia global, el análisis de temas como este resulta màs que pertinente.

Dr. Wood es profesor emerito de Duke University

Plague in London. Title artwork from a 17th century pamphlet on the effects of the plague on London. This pamphlet, A Rod for Run-awayes, by Thomas Dekker, was published in 1625, one of the years in which a plague epidemic broke out. The plague (or Black Death) affected Europe from the 1340s to the 1700s. It is thought to have been bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and spread by fleas on rats.


“Infection Unperceiv’d, in Many a Place”: The London Plague of 1625, Viewed from Plymouth Rock


The year of Covid-19 also marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower. Its famous voyage brought to New England a band of Protestant “separatists,” many of whom had migrated from England to Holland in 1608 for religious reasons. In 1620, a portion left Leiden with plans to settle in America. In September, at Plymouth, England, they crowded aboard a 160-ton vessel bound for Virginia. After a stormy two-month crossing, they landed near Cape Cod instead.

The Pilgrims’ faced a stark isolation. They “had now no friends to welcome them,” Governor William Bradford recalled. “Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness.” The striking scarcity of local inhabitants was as surprising as the harsh winter. Indian towns had been literally decimated when European ships introduced unfamiliar diseases. Between 1617 and 1619, one onslaught had killed nearly nine tenths of the coastal population. As Bradford put it, “skulls and bones were found in many places lying still above ground.”

Short on shelter and supplies, the new Plymouth Colony faced sickness of its own, losing half its members in the first winter. Still, by 1624 new arrivals had expanded their numbers to 180, housed in several dozen dwellings. With the Virginia Company seeking reimbursement for its investment, the colonists amassed stacks of beaver pelts and barrels of salt cod. That way, ships bringing expensive supplies would not be returning to England with empty cargo holds.

But in 1625, New England’s “hideous and desolate” isolation suddenly began to seem a God-given blessing in disguise. Captain Miles Standish had been sent back to England, aboard a ship laden with furs and fish, to negotiate with overbearing creditors for their “favour and help.” He went at “a very bad time,” Bradford related, for their home country was “full of trouble.” To his dismay, Standish found “the plague very hote in London, so no business could be done.”

Hot indeed. England’s plague had arrived, apparently from Holland, early in 1625, but it went undetected through most of March. George Wither, a poet who survived the epidemic, recalled how the stealthy sickness first approached London through the city’s “well-fill’d Suburbs” and spread there undetected for weeks:

Infection unperceiv’d, in many a place

Before the bleare-ey’d Searchers, knew her face.…

On March 25 the Privy Council, aware that the contagion had entered the city, rebuked London officials for squandering an opportunity to act quickly and failing to take preventive measures weeks earlier. With the benefit of hindsight, members argued that swift action might have “stayed” the outbreak. “You may be assured,” they threatened the Lord Mayor and his aldermen, that a full accounting for this critical failure “will be demanded at your hands.”

Two days later, an unrelated event complicated the situation. On March 27, King James I died of dysentery at his country estate in Hertfordshire. The fifty-six-year-old monarch had been seriously ill for some time. (Ironically, his predecessor, Elizabeth I, had also died of unrelated causes at the start of a major plague outbreak in 1603.) Despite the pending crisis, news of the king’s death prompted preparations for a state funeral and for the public coronation of Charles I.

London witnessed the royal burial, plus crowded church services, on May 7. Five weeks later, the new monarch arrived in the city with his French bride. Parliament convened three days after that, as the death toll continued to rise. “Though the sickness increase shrewdly upon us,” a prominent Londoner wrote on June 25, “yet we cannot find in our hearts to leave this town, so long as here is such doings, by reason of the queen’s arrival, and the sitting of the Parliament.”

The next two months told a different story, underscoring the deep-seated class divisions that almost always emerge in moments of mass contagion. As with the United States today, England in 1625 had experienced decades of growing inequality. One writer complained that as aspiring yeomen became gentry, rich gentry in turn became “knights, and so forth upward.” Meanwhile, “the poorest sort” were becoming “stark beggars” with no safety net beneath them.

Facing plague, the wealthy left the city in droves, and Parliament adjourned on July 11. The first week of the month saw 593 plague deaths in 57 local parishes, but during the last week of July official “searchers” recorded 2,471 victims in 103 parishes. By August 1, at the start of a month that would see the highpoint of the epidemic in London, Parliament reconvened in Oxford. Over the next four weeks, more than 16,000 inhabitants of the capital died of plague.

By the end of 1625, the contagion had claimed nearly 70,000 lives across England. More than half the deaths had been in London. There, the disease had killed well over 35,000, in a city of fewer than 330,000 people. Many more may have been undiagnosed victims. One Londoner wrote that “to this present Plague of Pestilence, all former Plagues were but pettie ones.” Another lamented that no prior chronicle had “ever mentioned the like” for “our famous citie.”

As for Standish, he found the English adventurers who supported the Plymouth Colony were fearful in the midst of an economic collapse and a public health disaster. When the New Englander sought a loan, they could only offer him money at a whopping 50% interest rate.  As Bradford later summarized: “though their wills were good, yet theyr power was litle. And ther dyed such multitude weekly of the plague, as all trade was dead, and litle money stirring.”

In early April 1626, the Plymouth colonists welcomed Standish home safely, but his mission had been unsuccessful, and “the news he brought was sad in many regards.” Numerous English allies had been struck down financially and physically, “much disabled from doing any further help, and some dead of the plague.” Faced with such news and given “the state of things,” Bradford observed of his colonists, “it is a marvell it did not wholy discourage them and sinck them.”

If the Mayflower colonists were “separatists” from the Church of England in religious terms, they were also saved by their geographical separation from London’s plague. According to Bradford, “they gathered up their spirits” from this low point and “begane to rise againe.” Nothing aided them more than their remoteness from European epidemics, and their relative immunity from the diseases killing Native Americans, including their Patuxet mentor, Squanto.

Thomas Dekker used this image on the title page when he published A Rod for Run-awayes in 1625. His pamphlet described that year’s memorable outbreak of plague in London. It is thought to have been bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and spread by fleas on rats. During a typical outbreak, tens of thousands died in London alone. Death (shown here as a skeleton, with London in the background) stands on new coffins, casting arrows at the fleeing people and saying he will follow them. The lightning overhead represents God’s wrath.

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influenz encyclopedia san francisco 1918La página web Covid-19 News/info , dedicada como bien señala su nombre, a informar sobre la pandemia que nos azota, publica un interesante ensayo sobre la Influenza Española de 1918. El escrito, publicado originalmente en la Influenza Encyclopedia del University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine,  analiza el desarrollo de un movimiento opuesto al uso de mascarillas en la ciudad de San Francisco.  Además, hace un recuento detallado del desarrollo de la pandemia y de las medidas tomadas por las autoridades de la ciudad para combatirla.

Quienes hoy se oponen a las medidas de protección impuestas por la mayoría de los gobiernos del mundo, deberían leer este ensayo con cuidado para entender lo que significó una actitud similar hace poco más de cien años.

In 1918, there was an anti-mask league in San Francisco

Covid-19 News/info

In 1918, there was an anti-mask league in San Francisco, which objected to wearing masks to prevent the spread of influenza. They held meetings of thousands of maskless people. San Francisco was ultimately was one of the cities that suffered most from the Spanish Influenza pandemic.

As in every city, it is impossible to know just how the first case of influenza was contracted in San Francisco. According to contemporary newspaper reports, however, a local man who had returned to his home after a recent trip to Chicago brought the disease to San Francisco. Learning of the case on September 23, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. William C.

Hassler ordered the man to the city hospital and placed his home under quarantine. The hope was that these actions might stop the spread of the disease in its tracks, sparing San Francisco from an epidemic. However, by October 9 the city had at least 169 cases of influenza. Only a week later that number had jumped to over 2,000. San Francisco’s epidemic had started.1

As the number of cases began to rise sharply, the city Board of Health issued a series of recommendations to the public on how best to avoid contracting influenza. City residents were advised to avoid streetcars during peak rush hour times, asked to not dance in public places and to avoid crowds, and instructed to pay particular attention to their personal hygiene as well as that of their children.

Dance halls were closed. Streetcar conductors were ordered to keep the windows of their cars open in all but rainy weather, hospitals were ordered to only accept patients who absolutely required their care, and hospital physicians and nurses were instructed to wear gauze masks when with flu patients. As in nearly every other American city, the need for nurses was severe, and the board made the call for volunteers and for existing nurses to put in extra hours each day until the epidemic subsided.2

Within two days, however, the number of influenza cases in San Francisco had reached a whopping 2,179, and it became clear to Health Officer Hassler that a more drastic set of measures that those initially implemented would be required if the city were to make any headway in checking the spread of the disease. On the evening of October 17, Mayor James Rolph met with Hassler, members of the board of health, the Red Cross, the Army and the Navy, the United States Public Health Service, the United States Shipping Board, and theater, movie house, and other amusement place owners to discuss the growing epidemic and the possibility of issuing a closure order.

Open-air police court being held in Portsmouth Square, San Francisco. To prevent crowding indoors, judges held outdoor court sessions. anti mask

Open-air police court being held in Portsmouth Square, San Francisco. To prevent crowding indoors, judges held outdoor court sessions.

Hassler shared his doubts about a closure order, but suggested that a short closure order would “limit most of all the cases to the home and give the other places a chance to thoroughly clean up and thus we may bring about a condition that will reduce the number of cases.” Several in attendance felt that a general closure order would induce panic in the people, would be costly, and would not stop the spread of the epidemic.

Theater owners and dance hall operators supported a closure order, hoping that it would bring a quick end to the epidemic that was already causing a drastic reduction in revenue (one owner estimated that his receipts had fallen off 40% since the start of the epidemic). After some discussion, the Board of Health voted to close all places of public amusement, ban all lodge meetings, close all public and private schools, and to prohibit all dances and other social gatherings effective at 1:00 am on Friday, October 18.

The Board did not close churches, but instead recommended that services and socials be either discontinued during the epidemic or held in the open air. City police were given a list of the restrictions and directed to ensure compliance with the order. The Liberty Loan drive, always the concern of citizens as they tried to outdo other cities in fundraising, would be allowed to continue by permit, as would all public meetings.

Despite the closure order and gathering ban, the centerpiece of San Francisco’s crusade against influenza was the face mask. Several other cities also mandated their use, and many more recommended them for private citizens as well as for physicians, nurses, and attendants who cared for the ill. But it was San Francisco that pushed for the early and widespread use of masks as a way to prevent the spread of the dread malady. On October 18, the day that the other health measures went into effect, Hassler ordered that all barbers wear masks while with customers, and recommended clerks who came into contact with the general public also don them.

The next day, Hassler added hotel and rooming house employees, bank tellers, druggists, store clerks, and any other person serving the public to the list of those required to wear masks. Citizens were again strongly urged to wear masks while in public. On October 21, the Board of Health met and issued a strong recommendation to all residents to wear a mask while in public.5

The wearing of a mask immediately became of a symbol of wartime patriotism. A Red Cross public service announcement stated bluntly, “the man or woman or child who will not wear a mask now is a dangerous slacker,” calling into question the patriotism of those who refused. The local Labor Council issued a warning that no members would be allowed to work unless they wore a mask.

Aerial view of the Bay Area, with San Francisco in the foreground and Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley in the background.

Aerial view of the Bay Area, with San Francisco in the foreground and Richmond, Oakland, and Berkeley in the background.

Mayor Rolph told the public that “conscience, patriotism and self-protection demand immediate and rigid compliance” with the mask order. California governor William Stephens echoed this language a day later with his own public service announcement, telling Californians it was the “patriotic duty for every American citizen” to wear a mask, a “duty which each citizen can easily perform to our country and our State” in a campaign against influenza that “must be fought.”

By drawing on the rhetoric and imagery of the war effort and the heavy-handed patriotism that went along with it, city and state health officials hoped to inveigle if not outright bully residents into compliance.

It may have worked for most residents, but there were still many who refused to wear a mask. Hassler and Mayor Rolph therefore moved to make wearing a mask in public mandatory. They asked the Board of Supervisors to pass a mandatory mask ordinance as quickly as possible so that the city could “prevent half or more of the sickness and death which we are now confronted.” There were still people, they stated, who, “through failure to realize the seriousness of the menacing disease, or possibly through captiousness or disregard of the public health,” were not taking the recommendations seriously. The ordinance was drafted by the city attorney’s office to ensure its legality and quickly passed. Starting on October 25, every resident and visitor of San Francisco would be required to wear a mask while in public or when in a group of two or more people, except at mealtime.

Crowded Children’s Playground at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the carousel and the Sharon Building in the background. With most indoor venues closed during the epidemic, parks and outdoor attractions became particularly important public places.

Crowded Children’s Playground at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, with the carousel and the Sharon Building in the background. With most indoor venues closed during the epidemic, parks and outdoor attractions became particularly important public places.


Both city officials and local newspapers reported widespread compliance with the mask order, estimating that four out of five people were wearing their masks in public even before the ordinance was passed. Unfortunately, many of the masks were constructed of dubious materials even more porous and ineffective than the standard surgical gauze most often used.

Health officials and various mask “experts” touted the effectiveness of all sorts of materials. Woods Hutchinson, a New York-based physician who traveled the country in the fall of 1918 espousing the virtues of the face mask as a means of preventing the spread of influenza told newspaper readers in late-October that masks had been effective in the East, and that “chiffon veils for women and children have been as satisfactory as the common gauze masks,” as a way of enticing fashion-conscious women to don masks.

As supplies of gauze masks ran low, the chairman of the San Francisco chapter of the American Red Cross suggested that women craft flu masks from linen. The San Francisco Chronicle described some city residents as wearing masks ranging from standard surgical gauze to creations resembling nosebags, from the Turkish-inspired muslin yashmak veil to flimsy chiffon coverings draped lazily across the mouth and nose. Some wore “fearsome looking machines like extended muzzles” on their faces as they walked the streets and shopped in downtown stores.

For city officials, the importance was not so much in the specifics of mask construction but rather in compliance with the letter of the ordinance. While the vast majority of San Franciscans followed the mask order, police arrested one hundred and ten people on October 27 alone for failure to either wear or keep their masks properly adjusted.

Each was charged with “disturbing the peace,” and the majority given a $5 fine, with the money to go to the Red Cross. Nine unfortunate souls arraigned before one particular judge were sentenced to short terms in the county jail. The next day, another group of fifty violators were arrested; five were sent to jail, and seven others given fines of $10 apiece. Arrests continued in the following days, with the majority receiving small fines and a few being sentenced to a few days in jail.

As the city chief of police later told reporters, if too many residents were arrested and given jail terms for failure to wear their flu mask, he would quickly run out of space in his cells. As the days rolled on and more arrests were made, the city jail did become rather crowded, and police justices were forced to work well into the evenings and on Sundays to clear the cases.16

For some, wearing a mask was simply a nuisance, and if they believed they could get away without donning one in public they tried. Others may simply have been among those unfortunate enough to be caught during a momentary lapse or when they thought no one would notice. This was especially the case for commuters who passed through San Francisco, many of whom were caught with their masks dangling from their chins while they enjoyed a morning pipe on the ferry. One such gentleman, caught by police, explained that he was “a director of the Crocker-Woolworth Bank, and I have to hurry up to open the vault.”

To ensure that there could be no excuses, the Red Cross set up a stand at the ferry terminal to sell masks to those who did not have them for their commute. Most of these cases were dismissed with a stern reprimand and a promise by the offender to be more vigilant in the future.

While most residents caught without a mask were simply forgetful or minor transgressors, some harbored deep resentment over being forced to wear a mask while in public and made it a point to scoff the law. One woman, a downtown attorney, argued to Mayor Rolph that the mask ordinance was “absolutely unconstitutional” because it was not legally enacted, and that as a result every police officer who had arrested a mask scofflaw was personally liable.

Meanwhile, the epidemic continued to grind on, although the number of new reported cases had begun to decline. By the end of October, San Francisco had experienced a total of nearly 20,000 cases of influenza and over 1,000 deaths. Still, the situation had improved enough for Hassler to recommend re-opening the city. On November 13 the Board of Health voted to lift the various bans starting on Saturday, November 16. Due to the high numbers of cases still being experienced in the Mission district and the North End, theaters there were kept closed for an additional week.

All across the city masks had to be worn by every patron of every theater, and the order to wear masks had to be shown on screen before each performance. Hotels and restaurants could resume their musical entertainment, but no dancing was allowed. Schools did not re-open until November 25. In a double blow to children, the holiday break was shortened and the school day extended by 20 minutes in elementary schools and 45 minutes in high schools.

After having been starved of most entertainment outlets for a month, San Franciscans packed the city’s theaters, movie houses, and sports arenas. On the first day they were allowed to re-open their doors the downtown theaters all held charity performances, with proceeds going to the United War Work campaign. The Orpheum sold out all of its shows as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a frequenter of San Francisco and an acquaintance of Mayor Rolph, made an appearance and influential San Francisco banker and son of a forty-niner William H. Crocker donated $500.

The Hippodrome was at capacity all day, and both the Alcazar and the Curran opened to similarly full houses. At the Civic Auditorium, the boxing crowd gathered to watch Fred Fulton win an easy decision over Willie Meehan. In attendance were several notable sporting men of the city, including several supervisors, a congressman, a justice, a Navy rear-admiral, Mayor Rolph, and Health Officer Hassler. The men were so easily identified because none was wearing a mask, as still required by law. All were caught on film by a police photographer, who sent copies of the prints to his chief for further action.

Hassler paid a $5 fine on the spot, admitting that his mask may have dropped a bit while he was smoking a cigar. Several days later, Mayor Rolph was shown a photograph of his unmasked visage and fined $50 by his own police chief.

A view of San Francisco, looking north from the Nob Hill neighborhood. To the left is the luxurious and historic Fairmont Hotel, at 950 Mason Street.

A view of San Francisco, looking north from the Nob Hill neighborhood. To the left is the luxurious and historic Fairmont Hotel, at 950 Mason Street.

At noon on November 21, San Franciscans simultaneously removed their masks as a whistle-blow sounded across the city, the result of Mayor Rolph’s annulment of the ordinance the previous day. Requests by the health department to conserve gauze amounted to little as residents joyously ripped the hated masks from their faces and unceremoniously tossed them in the streets. As the Chronicle aptly described the scene, “the sidewalks and runnels were strewn with the relics of a torturous month.”

The order to hold fast until noon was taken seriously, as one man found out when he tried to blow his unmasked nose just seconds before 12:00, only to be yelled at by a nearby police officer to “Cover your mouth, mister!”

The celebrations were unfortunately short-lived. On December 7, Mayor Rolph, after being informed by Hassler of a slight recrudescence of the disease, publicly declared that influenza was once again epidemic in San Francisco and requested that residents once again don their masks. Hassler believed that the epidemic had been stamped out, and that the new cases were the result of infectious outsiders from other parts of the state entering San Francisco. Business closures and a gathering bans were not considered, as it was believed that re-masking would be all that was necessary to rid the city of the disease once and for all.

When the number of new cases being reported to health authorities dipped slightly, it gave all involved hope that a second peak was not on its way. Hassler, the Board of Supervisors, and a small committee of representatives from the business community met and decided that a second mandatory mask order was not necessary for the time being but that citizens be warned to voluntarily wear masks.

The reprieve was only temporary. On January 10, with over 600 new influenza cases reported for the day, the Board of Supervisors voted to re-enact the mask ordinance beginning January 17, despite strong evidence that, as one newspaper put it, “the compulsory wearing of masks does not affect the progress of the epidemic.

Once again, San Franciscans put on their flu masks, and once again complaints were lodged. One man wrote Hassler that masks served no purpose, adding that if the health officer wished to wear a mask he could freely do so, “and as far as I am concerned, I hope he will have to wear one for the next five years.”

He opined that the mask ordinance stood on shaky legal ground, and that it would likely be dissolved if the issue were brought before the courts. Sentiment was so strong against the mask that several influential San Franciscans, including a few physicians as well as a member of the Board of Supervisors, formed “The Anti-Mask League” which held at least one public meeting to denounce the ordinance and to discuss ways to put an end to it. Over 2,000 people attended the event.

On February 1 mask detractors got their wish. Mayor Rolph once again proclaimed the mask ordinance rescinded following a meeting of the Board of health, which determined that the epidemic situation had improved enough that the measure was no longer necessary. Without fanfare but relieved to be rid of the masks as well as the epidemic, San Franciscans removed their gauze coverings and went about their business as families, organizations, institutions, and the city slowly pieced back together life as it existed before the plague.

The epidemic brought nearly 45,000 cases of influenza to San Francisco and killed over 3,000 of its residents in the fall of 1918 and the winter of 1919. On numerous occasions throughout the fall of 1918 and winter of 1919, Hassler had made statements that San Francisco was the only large city in the entire world to check its epidemic so quickly.

By mid-February 1919, however, when the United States Public Health Service released figures on the nation’s epidemic, it became clear that Hassler had been wrong: San Francisco was reported as having suffered the most of all major American cities, with a death rate approaching 30 deaths per 1,000 people. With more complete and accurate data today, we now knowthat San Francisco fared slightly better. Still, the city’s total excess death ratedue to influenza and pneumonia during the epidemic was a whopping 673 per 100,000 people.”

Source: https://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-sanfrancisco.html#

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Hoy, 24 de abril de 2020, El Imperio de Calibán cumple doce años de existencia. Con casi un millón de vistas (819,000), este blog ha sobrevivido los vaivenes de la vida de su creador. Con altas y bajas, ha cumplido con su objetivo de fomentar el estudio de la historia de Estados Unidos. Agradezco  a todas aquellas personas que a lo largo de esta docena de años han demostrado su apoyo  y símpatia.

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seguridad-colectiva-chrysler-building1El edificio Chrysler es una joya arquitectónica de la ciudad de Nueva York. Con sus 300 metros de altura, el Chrysler se levanta majestuoso con su estilo art déco, como uno de los símbolos de la Gran Manzana. El Chrysler fue construido al comienzo de la Gran Depresión por cientos de trabajadores que luego de inaugurado cayeron en el olvido.

La revista digital Aeon comparte  un intersante video que recoje imágenes de la instalación de uno de los águilas que distinguen al Chrysler del resto de los rascacielos niuyorquinos. Vemos, además, trabajadores laborando en las alturas sin equipo de seguridad y arriesgando, por ende, su vida, pero orgullosos de su labor.

Comparto con mis lectores este video.

Captura de pantalla 2020-04-24 a la(s) 13.01.02.png

‘Quite a height, ah?’ A tour of the Chrysler Building by those building it

Aeon   24 April, 2020

The Chrysler Tower … stands by itself, something apart and alone. It is simply the realisation, the fulfilment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambition and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards.
– The Architectural Forum, October, 1930

Today, it’s easy to mistake the Chrysler Building for just another skyscraper dotting the New York City skyline. But upon its completion in 1930, and until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931, it was the world’s tallest manmade structure. At the time, the tower was notable not just for its sheer mass, but for its polarisation of architecture critics, with detractors deriding the building as an unsightly novelty, and a monument to the grand ego of its car magnate namesake, Walter Chrysler. But, as is clear in this footage filmed by Fox Movietone News, while the building might have originated as a ‘one-man dream’, it was built on the backs of fearless ironworkers – self-proclaimed ‘roughnecks’, who constructed it without harnesses or hard hats. This footage from 1929 and 1930 of the building’s construction – including the placement of an iconic 61st-floor Art Deco eagle – showcases how these workers were less comfortable delivering canned lines for the cameras than they were sitting atop beams hundreds of feet high.

This footage was accessed and published by Aeon with the permission of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, an archive that ‘preserves films and videos produced outside the American feature film industry to make them available to present and future audiences’.

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USAbroad - Journal of American History and Politics

Acabo de descubrir una revista académica que me ha resultado particularmente interesante. Se trata de USAbroad The Journal of American History and Politics, auspiciada por el Departamento de Política y Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Bolonia.  Con sólo tres volúmenes publicados desde el 2018, USAbroad es un revista joven cuya particularidad es que busca generar un espacio de publicación para los estudiantes recién doctorados. Su enfoque es claramente político con ensayos sobre temas como el Occupy Wall Sreet Movement, la propaganda estadounidense en Rusia y el Comité Church.

Para aquellos intersados en la historia política de los Estados Unidos, USAbroad podría ser una fuente importante de trabajos recientes de nuevos académicos.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 7 de abril de 2020

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Si de algo sirve el estudio de la Historia, digan lo que digan los posmodernos, es para entender o aclarar el presente.  En mi caso, descubrí la utilidad de la historia de adolescente cuando buscaba respuestas a mis preguntas sobre la relación de mi patria, Puerto Rico, con los Estados Unidos. Así se inició un romance que dura hasta el día de hoy.

En la presente coyuntura de pandemia mundial y confinamiento social, el estudio del pasado se hace más relevante aun, pues nos permite contextualizar nuestro terrible presente.

Comparto con ustedes un corto ensayo del Dr. Manuel Peinado, catedrático de la Universidad de Alcalá, que espero les sea útil para entender o acalarar estos tiempos dificiles que nos han tocado vivir.

Dr. Norberto Barreto Velazquez

2 de abril de 2020


Coronavirus en Estados Unidos: lo que nos enseña la historia

Diálogo Atlántico   2 de abril de 2020

Estados Unidos se acaba de convertir en el nuevo epicentro de la COVID-19, la nueva enfermedad transmitida por el coronavirus SARS-CoV-2: el país tiene ahora más casos de coronavirus que cualquier otro país del mundo. Desde que se detectó el primer caso en Seattle el 20 de enero, el virus ha contagiado al menos a 181.099 personas en los 50 estados, según las cifras oficiales (siempre más reducidas que las reales). De esos casos registrados, 3.606 son fallecidos, 1.550 de ellos en Nueva York.

En un país con 329 millones de habitantes, esas cifras significan una incidencia proporcionalmente mucho más baja que en España o Italia. Pero todo apunta a una escalada rápida provocada por el inevitable crecimiento exponencial que caracteriza el inicio de todas las epidemias.

Hay razones estructurales por las cuales Estados Unidos tiene dificultades para ofrecer una respuesta a la pandemia: la atención médica privatizada y cara, la deficiente red de asistencia social y la autoridad descentralizada. Esta última, además de una amenaza para la propia democracia, en la guerra biológica contra el coronavirus, es una deficiencia de primera magnitud.

¿Qué está ocurriendo exactamente? Observen la Figura 1. Las estrellas en negrita indican el día en el que diferentes países adoptaron medidas de mitigación consistentes en el confinamiento nacional, regional o local de las poblaciones afectadas. Estados Unidos aún no las ha adoptado. Para entender lo que está pasando allí hay que poner el foco en lo que sucede ahora y lo que sucedió hace más de un siglo. En la lucha contra la actual pandemia, el país se enfrenta a los mismos problemas constitucionales que dificultaron el control de la epidemia de gripe de 1918.

Figura 1. Los costes humanitarios del brote de coronavirus continúan aumentando, con más de 719,000 personas infectadas en todo el mundo. El número de fallecimientos confirmados ha superado los 33.900. Datos a 30 de marzo (Fuente).


La gripe de 1918, también conocida como gripe española, duró hasta 1920 y se considera la pandemia más mortal de la historia moderna. Desde su primer caso conocido, que tuvo lugar cerca de una base militar de Kansas en marzo de 1918, la gripe se extendió por todo el país. Al final de la pandemia, entre 50 y 100 millones de personas habían muerto en todo el mundo, incluidos más de 500.000 estadounidenses.

En 2007, dos estudios científicos intentaron explicar cómo influyeron en la propagación de la enfermedad las distintas respuestas ofrecidas en diferentes ciudades. Al comparar las tasas de mortalidad, el tiempo y las intervenciones de salud pública, los investigadores descubrieron que las tasas de mortalidad eran alrededor de un 50% más bajas en las ciudades que adoptaron medidas preventivas desde el principio en comparación con las que lo hicieron tarde o no lo hicieron (Figura 2C). Además, las ciudades que adelantaron el distanciamiento social se recuperaron económicamente mejor tras la pandemia.

Figura 2. A. Adoptar medidas de aislamiento social un día después eleva espectacularmente el número de contagiados (Luis Monje). B. Número de muertes previstas en Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos en el caso de no adoptarse medidas de aislamiento social (Fuente). C. Diferencias de casos mortales registrados en diferentes ciudades norteamericanas. San Luis y Nueva York, las primeras en aplicar medidas de aislamiento fueron las que menos casos registraron (Fuente). D. Diferencias en el número de casos mortales registrados entre Filadelfia y San Luis. Dos ciudades que adoptaron medidas de aislamiento en fechas diferentes (Fuente).


Ahora como entonces, las intervenciones de aislamiento social son la primera línea de defensa contra una epidemia en ausencia de una vacuna. Estas medidas incluyen el cierre de escuelas, tiendas y restaurantes; imponer restricciones al transporte; ordenar el confinamiento social y prohibir las concentraciones públicas. Pero en cada zona del país se aplican directrices distintas.

La restricción de viajes a Europa que hizo la Administración estadounidense es una medida en la buena dirección: probablemente el país ganó unas horas, quizás un día o dos para frenar la expansión del virus. Pero no más. No es suficiente. Eso es contención cuando lo que se necesita en estos momentos es mitigación. Y es ahí donde el poder federal tropieza con la capacidad legislativa de los estados.

Aunque la mitad de los ciudadanos está sometida a diferentes grados de distanciamiento social, cada estado (e incluso cada condado o cada gran ciudad) actúa por su cuenta en función en la gravedad de la situación en su territorio, sin olvidar que las autoridades actúan influidas en ocasiones por un trasfondo social.

El presidente Trump tiene las manos constitucionalmente atadas a la hora de declarar un estado de alarma como el declarado en España. Sin embargo, el virus circulará por mucho que el presidente desee que desaparezca. Frente a la crisis del coronavirus el trumpismo no parece a la altura de las circunstancias, como ha ido demostrando el empecinamiento interesado del presidente y de los grupos negacionistas que lo sostienen en acabar con la cuarentena cuanto antes para volver a la normalidad.

El 9 de marzo Trump acusó de embusteros a los medios de comunicación y a los demócratas por conspirar “para inflamar la situación del coronavirus” y dijo equivocadamente que la gripe común era más peligrosa.

Abrumado por las cifras cada vez más preocupantes y por el informe del Imperial College que pronosticaba 2.200.000 muertes de estadounidenses de no adoptarse medidas (Figura 2B), el 30 de marzo, la Casa Blanca emitió las primeras recomendaciones federales de distanciamiento social que podrían durar hasta junio.

Pero son solo eso, recomendaciones, que no son suficientes en el combate actual. En 1918, la clave para acabar con la epidemia fue el aislamiento social. Y eso probablemente sigue siendo cierto un siglo después.

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