November 10, 2014
TCU’s John V. Roach Honors College and its Board of Visitors invite you to participate in a first-ever Online Fireside, centered around today’s Ebola crisis and informed by reading Albert Camus’ The Plague. It will be an online interdisciplinary conversation about the representations of disease in today’s social media and journalistic rhetoric and in classic literature. The online blog discussion will start November 1, followed by a live roundtable on December 1 at TCU. With both online and a “live”/in-person component, our communal inquiry into “Plague Culture” and its social ramifications will begin with shared reading and blog discussion and culminate with a roundtable, hosted by Honors Board of Visitors member Linda Newman and Honors student Bailey Betik, in Milton Daniel’s Great Hall on Monday, December 1, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Go here to join the Online Fireside discussion: http://jvrfiresides.wordpress.com/.
Guiding our inquiry will be an effort to put current coverage of the Ebola outbreak in dialogue with Albert Camus’s classic treatment of a parallel story in his powerful novel, The Plague (available in paperback from Amazon, using the Stuart Gilbert translation).
We’ve all seen the growing number of reports on Ebola’s steady rise in West Africa. BBC News offered an update this past week on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, citing the World Health Organization’s estimates that close to 5,000 deaths have now been attributed to the dissase—and that the total number of cases there could be as high as 20,000. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-28755033
But Ebola—and the many social issues it raises—can no longer be seen as a problem far-removed from our own lives, cast solely in statistics linked to places far from home. The first contracted-in-the-US cases arose in Dallas, after all, when two health care workers (including a TCU nursing alumna) who had been nursing a patient recently returned from Liberia wound up battling the disease themselves. Another health care worker returning from volunteer work through “Doctors Without Borders” in Sierra Leone was recently placed in temporary quarantine in a New Jersey hospital. Her letter to a Dallas newspaper describing her treatment by U.S.-based authorities raised a cluster of complex questions for us all. Ebola cases in the U.S. have now made quarantine policy and personal liberty into page one political headlines and even a factor in the November elections.
How can shared interdisciplinary inquiry help us engage critically and productively in the ethical, political, medical, personal, and human issues that the global Ebola context urges us to consider? One tool for addressing such questions is community reading. The Honors College has launched an online “book club” engagement with Albert Camus’s classic treatment of The Plague in an imagined scenario set in a North African port town—yet offering up a seemingly prescient examination of themes resonant with today’s headlines.
We invite you to read The Plague along with us in the weeks ahead; to share your thoughts and responses to this text and/or current coverage of the Ebola crisis in our online forum; and to join our roundtable discussion on December 1 on campus.
Roundtable participants will include Professor Rima Abunasser on re-reading Camus’s novel in today’s social context of global “contagion”; Dr. Giri Akkaraju on reading plague writing through a biological lens; Dr. Katherine Fogelberg on scientific learning, plague, and public health; and Professor Nancy Ramsay on pastoral care themes linked to contagion, quarantine, and social conscience.
Hope to see you online in the coming weeks’ book discussion and in Milton Daniel on Monday, December 1, for our roundtable.
Sarah Ruffing Robbins, Acting Dean, J.V. Roach Honors College
“Contagion, Quarantine and Social Conscience” Project Coordinators
Bailey Betik, Honors Ambassador, May 2015 Honors Laureate Candidate
Tyler Branson, Lorraine Sherley Graduate Research Fellow
Linda Newman, Board of Visitors, John V. Roach Honors College