22 April 2020, The Tablet

The corona experience, though suffused in tragedy, has shown us the very best of ourselves


The corona experience, though suffused in tragedy, has shown us the very best of ourselves
 

It’s perilous, perhaps even foolhardy, to try and write the history of an event as it is still unfolding. But so extraordinary are the times that this is exactly how I am filling the 12 weeks the NHS has instructed me to stay at home along with 1.5 million others deemed to be specially vulnerable.

Of one thing I am sure. Henceforth, those who write the history of Britain post 1945 will divide it into BC, Before Corona, and AC, After Corona. Ours is an experience laced with sorrow, loss and widespread anxiety.

Never before have we been both collectivised – the huge surge of extra state power requiring us to be the “Corona state” itself embodying the liberties we have temporarily lent to the government – and atomised at the same time.

It is impossible to be as detached and coolly analytical about what is unfolding as a professional historian should be, but I have chosen two methods to increase my chances. I am keeping a daily “Corona Britain” diary. Historians have a tendency to tidy things up when an event is over. Diaries can be an antidote as we travel a baffling arc in the cycle of our collective and individual histories.

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