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Health Crises throughout History (January 2022): 1918 Flu

1918 Flu

An international interpretation of the 1918 flu outbreak can be found in Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19: New Perspectives. This edited work by Howard Philips and David Killingray is broken into six parts, which aim to provide a global understanding from specific regions such as Senegal, Spain, Australia, China, United States, Bombay, and more. Additionally, viewpoints from these areas relate to elements surrounding memory, government reactions, documentation, virology, causation, contagion, and death tolls. The authors often compare the official record created by governments to various social aspects. 

Patricia Fanning not only offers some insight into the global reach of the Pandemic, but also focuses on the actions and reactions of a town called Norwood, a small community in Massachusetts. Her micro-social history, titled Influenza and Inequality: One Town’s Tragic Response to the Great Epidemic of 1918, focuses on Norwood’s reaction to the virus, which fueled an anti-immigration debate. Foreign-born residents suffered from extreme social isolation, abuse, medical trauma, discrimination (as they were often blamed for the virus), and higher death rates than other populations. Small-town regulators’ intention to quell death rates and prevent spreading often had damaging consequences for the community’s social, mental, and physical well-being. 

Also shedding light on a local approach to combatting the outbreak, Dr. Dorothy Pettit and Dr. Janice Ballie’s A cruel wind: Pandemic Flu in America, 1918–1920 provides a concise overview of the historical and medical implications in. Highlighted are the personal and social aspects that allow one to relate to or empathize with life during that time. In addition, scientific research is relied on to demonstrate the lack of knowledge in understanding true causation during the early stages of the outbreak. Interestingly, it is largely evident that this disease inspired collaboration between government entities, science, and industry, to recognize health as a social issue rather than simply a personal experience. 

Dr. Jeremy Brown, a former emergency room doctor, explores some of the medical effects of the virus in Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History. While history plays an important place within Dr. Brown’s narrative, the work primarily sheds light on research surrounding science and technology since the 1918 outbreak, leading into relevant current discussions today on preparing for another major pandemic. These include social and economic indicators that (historically and currently) help influence the outcome of spreading, treatment, regulation, and social activities. Dr. Brown mentions several examples of mass marketing strategies to educate the population on vaccines.

Exploring the depths of the 1918 pandemic further, Susan Kent uses primary documents as a catalyst for understanding the impact of personal experiences. Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919: A Brief History with Documents details various firsthand social histories from an individual’s perspective. Arranged by subject matter rather than chronology, the documents touch on a range of issues including treatment, transmission, mortality, outcomes, and aftermath. 

Nancy Bristow cleverly uses primary sources as well to help readers understand multiple viewpoints in American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Drawing on accounts from doctors, nurses, patients, families, and more, Bristow contextualizes the role of historical memory and trauma. Additionally, she explains in detail how historical memory can be warped by misinterpretation. Americans eventually attempted to discard the pandemic not only from personal memory, but from national identity as well. 

Works Cited