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 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 assisted in the screening process. Winning articles illuminated current challenges and policy choices by analyzing the historical record, especially precedents and analogues.

The weekly contest ended on June 26, 2020.

6/30/2020: Week Ten Winner Selected

The Stanton Foundation has selected "Corona and Bioterrorism: How Serious is the Threat?" by Marc-Michael Blum and Peter Neumann (War on the Rocks, 6/22/20) as the Week Ten prize winner of its Applied History coronavirus contest.

The Selection Committee described the article as "an illuminating analysis of the risk of bioterrorism in light of coronavirus, informed by history and technical expertise.''

Marc-Michael Blum is a former Head of Laboratory at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Frankfurt.

Peter Neumann is Professor of Security Studies at King’s College London, and served as Director of its International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation from 2008-18.


To be eligible for the contest, entries had to 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 were 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, was eligible. An article in an investment advisory newsletter to the clients of a financial firm was not eligible, nor was an article appearing only on a university website.


Each week’s winner received 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 ran for 10 weeks: Monday, April 20 through Friday, June 26, 2020.


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