A Prize Contest: Applying History to Clarify the COVID-19 Challenge

In early April, the American Historical Association issued a call for historians to apply their skills to help illuminate the challenge COVID-19 poses to our nation and the world. As the AHA Council wrote: “Historians can…play an important role by providing context, in this case shedding light on the history of pandemics and the utility of that history to policy formation and public culture.”

To reinforce and support this call to action, the Stanton Foundation has launched a weekly contest to identify and reward what we judge the best new Applied History article or op-ed that illuminates the current coronavirus crisis. An advisory panel from the Applied History Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center will assist in the screening process. These articles should illuminate current challenges and policy choices by analyzing the historical record, especially precedents and analogues.

5/27/2020: Week Five Winner Selected!

For the fifth week of the Stanton Foundation’s Applied History coronavirus contest, the Applied History Project reviewed 40 articles in 24 outlets. Submissions continued to represent a wide spectrum of historical material, analytic approaches, and political views.

The Stanton Foundation has selected “Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold” by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker (Foreign Affairs, 5/21/20) as its Week Five prize winner.

The Selection Committee described it as 'a masterful combination of institutional history, historical analogies, and subject-matter expertise that clarifies why the US was unprepared for coronavirus and what it can do to better manage future pandemics.'

Michael T. Osterholm is Regents Professor and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Mark Olshaker is a writer and Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.

The two are authors of Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs (2017).


To be eligible for the contest, entries must be:

  • New, published articles or op-eds that analyze history to (a) clarify the medical, political, economic and/or international impact of coronavirus, and (b) identify lessons or clues for policymakers.

    • For example, if the contest had been launched earlier, the weekly prize would have gone to A. Wess Mitchell and Charles Ingrao for their article, “Emperor Joseph’s Solution to Coronavirus,” in which they draw lessons for crisis management, epidemiology, and international politics from an analysis of the Habsburg-Ottoman border that they call “one of the most successful quarantine systems ever created." A copy of this article can be found on the Resources tab.
  • Articles must have been published in a reasonably accessible general publication, either print or digital. Winners will be selected from new articles published each week.

    • Thus for example, an article published in a regularly published newspaper, or made available through the website of a local television station, is eligible. An article in an investment advisory newsletter to the clients of a financial firm is not eligible, nor is an article appearing only on a university website.


Each week’s winner will receive a $1,000 prize. An additional $2,500 prize will be awarded for the best overall from the contest period.

A $5,000 Grand Prize will be awarded for the best article/op-ed published between January 1 and June 30, 2020.


The contest will run for 10 weeks: Monday, April 20 through Friday, June 26, 2020.


Selection committee members and fellows sponsored by the Applied History Project at Harvard are ineligible. The advisory selection committee reserves the right not to recommend a winner for any given week.