Germ City: How Past Epidemics Can Shape Our Knowledge of the Coronavirus

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

When germs interact with a massive metropolis like New York City, no aspect of life goes untouched. We're in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but New York is a resilient city that has a long, complex, and fascinating history of battling infectious disease and epidemics. This was presented in the exhibition Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis, on view September 2018–April 2019. The exhibition looked at how humans and microbes have always co-habited, discussed how responses often reflected the dynamic of the time, and highlighted the social injustices and conflicts relating to disease as they have played out over the generations.

Installation Shot of Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis, with a crowd looking at the exhibition.
Filip Wolak

See how New York has responded to similar outbreaks in the past and put our current response in perspective.

In the News—On TV and Online

Chief Curator Sarah Henry has been contextualizing coronavirus in interviews as the pandemic spreads

Interview with NBC 4 News, March 4, 2020
Interview with CBS 2 News, February 21, 2020
GothamistCops Ticketed New Yorkers For Not Covering Coughs During Past Epidemic, March 5, 2020
New York MagazineThe Coronavirus Threatens Everything That Makes New York Great, March 2, 2020

Programs and More Videos

Facing the Future: Predicting and Preparing for Disease Outbreaks
In this program, held April 3, 2019, we asked experts Sonia Shah, investigative journalist and author; Larry Madoff, MD, director of ProMED-mail; Amy Fairchild, PhD, MPH, associate vice president for Faculty and Academic Affairs at the Health Science Center at Texas A&M University; and Lauren Flicker, when they the next deadly epidemic to happen and how we can prepare?

The World's Deadliest Pandemic: A Century Later
On September 27, 2018, Nicole Bouvier, MD, an infectious disease specialist, and John Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, discussed the lasting impact of the 1918 pandemic and its connections to the present day with historian of science Alan Kraut, PhD. 

This is Not a Drill: Bellevue Hospital Responds to Ebola
This video, part of the exhibition Germ City, looks at how one New York City hospital treated the single New York case of the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014—one of the most high-profile threats of recent years. Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan has played a longtime leadership role in the city’s response to infectious disease.

Exhibition Supporters

Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis was made possible with lead support from Wellcome as part of Contagious Cities; and Valerie and John W. Rowe; with additional support from Johnson & Johnson; the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation; and the Honorable Keith Powers, New York City Council, District 4.

This exhibition was organized by the Museum of the City of New York in collaboration with The New York Academy of Medicine and Wellcome. It was part of Wellcome’s international project Contagious Cities, which explores the interplay of people and pathogens in urban contexts.

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