Forgotten: The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Atrium (Marriott Wardman Park)
Srijita Pal, New York University
The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more individuals globally than the First World War, yet it gathered little popular attention and failed to leave a literary or historical mark, causing its near erasure in the American collective memory. The virus was strange because of its virulence and atypical patterns of infection. While soldiers struggled to define the flu and keep it from spreading, medical professionals tried to quell the rapidly growing public health crisis caused by outbreaks. This research extensively uses primary sources to show that the pandemic of 1918 was historically forgotten because dying due to influenza or any other disease was seen as less honorable than dying due to combat. The deaths during combat overshadowed the deaths of soldiers dying of influenza and consequently, those mourning felt guilty and placed less importance on the pandemic and more importance on “worthier” causes, such as the war effort. Overall, this contrasts greatly with how the disease was memorialized scientifically and was used as a resource for later scientific progress. The 1918 pandemic still remains useful microbiologically while it unfairly serves a less important role as a historical disease. How a population views a pandemic after its occurrence says much about how disease is viewed in society and in memory.
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