AuthorAlexander, Ryan M.

Thirteen years ago, I spent a semester studying at El Colegio de Mexico, a respected institution in Mexico City dedicated to the training of graduate students in the social sciences. At some point, one of my professors saw that, while historians in places such as the United States and Great Britain specialize in regions all over the world, their counterparts in the Global South tend not to. It's true--most medium-sized history departments in the United States will have a range of specialists who study anything from West Africa to China. Outside the United States, this is not usually the case. Even at El Colegio de Mexico, which ranks among Mexico's most prestigious doctoral training programs, most of the professors study Mexico. Historians trained in Mexico for the most part study Mexico, while historians trained in Nigeria tend to study Nigeria. Mexicans rarely make Nigeria their focus; similarly, it is unlikely that there are many Nigerians specializing in Mexican history.

There are a lot of lessons that we might take away from that observation. Scholars concerned with postcolonial theory have long warned of the distortions that can spring from Global North scholars imposing their perspectives on the often-voiceless people of the Global South. While the entire discussion has taken more theoretical turns than we could possibly account for here, I took a simpler lesson from the professor's comment: Whether we like to admit it or not, it is a luxury for many of us to study the Global South. Most of us working in the United States can travel to Africa, Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East. We can occasionally secure adequate funding to live on a temporary basis in any of those places, and we return home when we like. We peer in, engaging to various degrees, depending on our level of comfort or the necessity of the research at hand, and then we retreat. This lesson keeps coming back to me in the era of COVID-19: Some of us have more escape mechanisms than others.

By the time you read this editorial message, we will be fully in the throes of yet another surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by another new variant of the disease, the Omicron variant. As the infection rate and death count subsided in the late spring and early summer of 2021, most of us heaved a sigh of relief. All of us, in one way or another, had suffered, some more than others. Thankfully, for most of us, COVID-19 amounted to nothing more than a series of inconveniences...

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