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

In early April 2020, 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 judged the best new Applied History article or op-ed that illuminated the COVID-19 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. ***


The Foundation awarded two grand prizes for best articles published during the first six months of 2020.

Best January 1 - June 30, 2020

A. Wess Mitchell and Charles Ingrao, "Emperor Joseph's Solution to Coronavirus" The Wall Street Journal, 4/6/2020

The Foundation determined that this article best achieves the aims of the contest by providing an excellent illustration of how "Historians …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.”* The authors 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," and present their research in a lively and accessible form.

A. Wess Mitchell formerly served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. He is the author of three books, including The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire (Princeton University Press, 2018).

Charles Ingrao is Emeritus Professor of History at Purdue University. He has published over a dozen books on Habsburg, German and Balkan history, including The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618–1815 and In Quest and Crisis: Emperor Joseph I and the Habsburg Monarchy and served for a decade as editor of The Austrian History Yearbook.

*AHA Issues Statement Regarding Historians and COVID-19 (April 2020)

Best Overall of the Contest

Andrew Ehrhardt, “Disease and Diplomacy in the 19th Century”, War on the Rocks, 4/30/20

The Selection Committee's recommendation noted, 'of all the articles in the contest, this offers the most original analysis of a specific historical analogy and best applies it to the present moment.'

Andrew Ehrhardt is a postdoctoral fellow with the Engelsberg Applied History Programme at King’s College London.

Note: A list of the winners of the weekly prizes can be found on the "Prize Winners" page.


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

A $5,000 Grand Prize was 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.