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September 6, 2006

University of Michigan launches new Web site on 1918 flu pandemic

Digital archives give researchers access to primary source materials

ANN ARBOR, MI – Examining how communities in the United States coped with the 1918 flu pandemic could help today’s public health planners in their preparations for the next flu pandemic. The Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School has unveiled a Web site of primary source materials covering the infamous 1918-1920 influenza pandemic. Called the "1918-1920 Influenza Epidemic Escape Community Digital Document Archive,” the site was created with today’s researchers in mind.

Howard Markel, MD, Phd“The Web site is the result of a project funded by the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency to identify and research a very important group of American communities. These are called escape communities and they experienced extremely low morbidity and mortality rates during the 1918-1920 influenza epidemic,” says Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., George E. Wantz professor in history of medicine and the center’s director.

Researchers at the center identified seven of these types of communities, gathering several thousand pages of primary and secondary source materials from a range of public and private archives, special collections, libraries, and other institutions. Using these materials, they composed a report detailing how the escape communities met the challenges of epidemic influenza. 

 “We believe these documents represent the definitive collection of primary source materials on the 1918-1920 influenza epidemic escape communities.  In the interest of scholarly interaction and the sharing of knowledge, we have now made digitized copies of these sources freely available to the public through the new Web site,” says Markel.

All the original documents are on the site and are freely available to the public for research or educational purposes. 

The Web site is organized around each of the seven escape communities and provides abridged versions of the community case studies included in the longer report. Researchers can view or download digital copies of any and all of the almost 2,000 pages of primary source documents that were collected and reviewed as part of the study.

A copy of the entire report, “A Historical Assessment of Nonpharmaceutical Disease Containment Strategies Employed by Selected U.S. Communities During the Second Wave of the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic,” is available on the archive Web site.

The archive can be accessed at:

Markel’s collaborators on the project were Alexandra Stern, Ph.D., associate director, Center for the History of Medicine; J. Alexander Navarro, Ph.D., senior researcher, Center for the History of Medicine; and Joseph Michalsen, research associate, Center for the History of Medicine.

Written by Rosie Iordanova

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