From mid-February to the end of April 2021, I was a visiting researcher with the Cultures of Vigilance Research Group at LMU Munich. How bizarre to travel and work abroad (with a family) during a pandemic when all of our cultures of vigilance are in hyperdrive! Even as vaccines become more widely available, it is still difficult to know when will be the right time to move past the fear of the very serious illness or of transmitting illness and travel. For me, there was no substitute for “being there,” exchanging ideas in person, and reading the archived manuscripts. The whole experience was a reminder just how vital research travel is.
When I think back on the long list of barriers to this trip’s success, it is still surprising to me that it actually happened. We had to jump through extra bureaucratic hoops like obtaining a letter of support from the DAAD for the visa application and many, many COVID tests. While this was, at times, a stressful undertaking, it was a great privilege to experience a different pandemic culture. America did not pursue widespread testing in the way that Germany did and it was actually difficult to even find a way to get a PCR test taken before our departure. Then, at the Nashville airport, we almost weren’t allowed to board our first flight because the gate agent confused AM with PM and thought my results wouldn’t be recent enough!
Many parts of the journey were just eerie, like when my son and I were two of the few guests at a 52-story hotel in downtown Atlanta where we applied for our visas in an absolutely empty consulate office. Or, when we saw dozens and dozens of parked planes on the tarmac at the usually busy international terminal of Dulles airport. It felt like a movie set when I saw medical workers in hazmat suits staffing a COVID testing tent at the Chinese Tower in the English Garden.
Aureo Lustosa Guerios is a PhD student at the University of Padua interested in Comparative Literature, Cultural History and Medical Humanities. His research surveys the literary representations of epidemic cholera in the 19th and early 20th centuries.He writes and presents the podcast “Literatura Viral” in Portuguese in which he discusses how epidemics influence history and art.He holds a master’s degree in “European Literary Cultures” and wrote his thesis on the Divine Comedy. While pursuing his BA in Brazil, Aureo’s research focused on literary modernism (Joyce, Baudelaire, Mann) and the translation of children’s literature (Dr. Seuss).
LF: Your PhD dissertation deals with literary representations of epidemic cholera in the 19th and 20th centuries. Can you tell us more about it?
ALG: My dissertation is part of a collective effort to address a gap in the research on this disease. Cholera was the great pandemic disease of the 19th century. It started to spread around 1817 and it circumnavigated the globe four or five times before the 1920s. From this point onwards, some believed that cholera had been eradicated. However, a new wave hit in 1961, which has never been declared over. Today we are still living in the 59th year of the 7th Cholera Pandemic. Cholera has been a scourge for so many and for so long, and it has definitely left its mark on literature and art. But this has often been neglected. Only in the last decades have literary scholars started to pay closer attention to representations of disease. However, most of them focus on tuberculosis and syphilis, so other diseases such as cholera, malaria, typhus or even the Spanish Flu have been ignored.