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Investigating the Pandemic of 1918 and its Relationship to Today’s Coronavirus: A History of the Health Sciences Guide : Social Impacts

How did the Pandemic affect people in 1918? The longer we are constrained by COVID-19 protocols and restrictions, the more parents, children, business owners, students, retirees, the elderly, first responders...are affected, the more other people’s experiences seem of interest.

Getting Started

Until the Pandemic of 1918 neared its hundred year anniversary, little attention had been paid to its effect on the world. Since then, major studies have come out on its effect  on everything from population growth to politics to immigration sanctions to medical care. It turns out that people did write about it in medical journals (see Scenario #1), in newspapers, (see Scenario #2) and in novels and essays, and presumably family journals. 


Google Books will show you handfuls of secondary sources (historical treatments of a subject or era) that have been somewhat recently published. Many of them are available via UW campus libraries. Books like Gina Kolata’s Flu and Jeremy Brown’s Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History offer great background (and often prophetic language) for a study of COVID-19. These and other titles investigate the impact on the world in 1918, and then, one can relate those discussions to themes of resiliency, anxiety, dismissal, fear, survival, and education in 2020.

Here are a couple of fiction books that reinforce the impact and humanity of our earlier Pandemic. Even the perennially popular Rascal, from Wisconsin’s Sterling North, has a section on the Spanish Flu.

Tips for Searching

If you are looking for primary sources Google Books using terms like flu, influenza, la grippe, Spanish flu, and Pandemic. Click on Tools, and see the Any Time tab. You can limit your search by various date ranges, including a Custom Range, like 1918-1920, which will get you something from a student publication called The Artisan. Scroll all the way down, past p. 44, to the Supplement for October, 1918, there’s an article on the Spanish Flu that will surely resonate for a quarantined student in 2020.

News story titled "Spanish Influenza, Three Day Fever, The Flu"