What can we learn from historical pandemics? A systematic review of the literature

Áine Doran, Christopher L. Colvin, Eoin McLaughlin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


What are the insights from historical pandemics for policymaking today? We carry out a systematic review of the literature on the impact of pandemics that occurred since the Industrial Revolution and prior to Covid-19. Our literature searches were conducted between June 2020 and September 2023, with the final review encompassing 169 research papers selected for their relevance to understanding either the demographic or economic impact of pandemics. We include literature from across disciplines to maximise our knowledge base, finding many relevant articles in journals which would not normally be on the radar of social scientists. Our review identifies two gaps in the literature: (1) the need to study pandemics and their effects more collectively rather than looking at them in isolation; and (2) the need for more study of pandemics besides 1918 Spanish Influenza, especially milder pandemic episodes. These gaps are a consequence of academics working in silos, failing to draw on the skills and knowledge offered by other disciplines. Synthesising existing knowledge on pandemics in one place provides a basis upon which to identify the lessons in preparing for future catastrophic disease events.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116534
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date26 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • 1918 Spanish Influenza
  • historical pandemics
  • interdisciplinary research
  • mortality
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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