Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, April 2, 2010

U-M historians receive NEH grant to preserve 1918-19 influenza records

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the Center for the History of Medicine a two-year, $314,688 grant to create an original, open-access digital collection of archival, primary and interpretive materials related to the history of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic in the United States.

The project, which the NEH has given a prestigious We the People designation for its efforts to strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture, will include approximately 50,000 pages of original materials that document the experiences of 50 diverse communities in the United States in fall 1918 and winter 1919 when influenza took the lives of an estimated 675,000 Americans.

The collection’s primary resources consist of letters and correspondence, minutes of organizations and groups, reports from agencies and charities, newspaper accounts, military records, diaries, photographs and more.

“This grant will allow us to make available a wealth of materials that have great appeal to a wide-ranging audience, including humanities scholars, social scientists, epidemiologists and public health practitioners, high school and college students, journalists and writers, and informed Internet users,” says Alexandra Minna Stern, the Zina Pitcher Collegiate Professor in the History of Medicine.

The digital encyclopedia will be the first to document exhaustively the impact of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on one nation, says Dr. Howard Markel, the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine. This will permit scholars to explore how the 1918 influenza epidemic influenced many communities and sub-communities in the early 20th-century United States and to understand on a fine-grained level how individuals and society responded to a health crisis of extraordinary magnitude.

Online implementation of the digital collection will take place through collaboration with the Scholarly Publishing Office (SPO) of the U-M Library. The library is one of the world’s leaders in digital conversion and publication, beginning with its pioneering 1995 “Making of America” project. It also is lead partner in the Google Book Search project.

“Like all of SPO’s digital publications, this project will be designed in keeping with current library preservation standards, ensuring them the greatest possible longevity,” says Maria Bonn, associate university librarian for publishing, who oversees the library’s growing suite of publishing and scholarly communications including SPO. “Over time, we all hope the encyclopedia becomes a digital clearinghouse for online influenza resources, through links and potential collaboration with other colleagues and institutions.”

The project team is led by Stern and Markel and includes J. Alexander Navarro, Mary Beth Reilly and Julie Judkins, all based at the Center for the History of Medicine, along with Rebecca Welzenbach from SPO.