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U-M medical historians launch digital influenza archives

Center for the History of Medicine and MPublishing collaborate on first comprehensive digital resource documenting the 1918-1919 American epidemic experience

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine, in partnership with the U-M Library’s MPublishing division, announces the release of The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia, an original, open access digital collection of archival, primary, and interpretive materials related to the history of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic in the United States.

The collection, located at, contains more than 16,000 digitized documents—correspondence, minutes of organization and group meetings, reports from agencies and charities, newspaper accounts, military records, diaries, photographs, and more—along with interpretive materials contributed by scholars of history and public health.

“The digital encyclopedia exhaustively documents the impact of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic on one nation, when influenza took the lives of an estimated 675,000 Americans.This remarkable collection will permit scholars to explore how the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic influenced many communities and sub-communities in the early twentieth-century United States and to understand on a fine-grained level how individuals and society responded to a health crisis of extraordinary magnitude,” says Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, and Director, Center for the History of Medicine.

The digital encyclopedia is the culmination of more than five years of the Center's ongoing research in collaboration with the Global Migration and Quarantine Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

MPublishing worked with the Center for the History of Medicine to create the underlying architecture of the digital encyclopedia, as well as its functionality and user interface.

The U-M Library has been leading library digitization and digital publishing since the 1995 “Making of America” project. Its 2004 partnership with Google to digitize its collection laid the groundwork for HathiTrust, an inter-institutional digital library of over ten million volumes, approximately 30 percent of which are freely available online.

“The digital encyclopedia fits perfectly with MPublishing’s mission to bring together the talents of scholars, publishers, and librarians to create innovative and accessible platforms for the dissemination of information,” says John Wilkin, Associate University Librarian for Publishing at the University of Michigan and Executive Director of HathiTrust.

“We are very proud of our role in the development of the first digital collection to document the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, and are especially pleased that this tool, which has broad appeal to those interested in local history, public health, the history of medicine, and many other fields, will be freely available to everyone—from researchers to elementary school students to the general public.”

The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia is original in three significant ways:

  • It is the first digital collection to document the social, cultural, public health, and human dimensions of the most devastating infectious health crisis to occur in the world during the post-germ theory era;
  • It is the first extensive digital collection to highlight the responses of more than 50 differing American communities to the 1918-1919 epidemic, with attention to multiple social forces, organizations, communities and to the human experiences of death and disease;
  • It provides access to an extensive set of interpretative documents, including city essays, timelines, information boxes, and sidebars.

To mark the Website’s launch, a celebratory reception takes place Wednesday, October 10, at 5 p.m. in the Gallery in Room 100, Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, 913 S. University Avenue in Ann Arbor. Dr. Markel will provide opening remarks. The event is free and open to the public.

Funding for this digital project was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research Program, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, including the prestigious We the People designation acknowledging the Center’s efforts to enrich the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture.

Follow the project on Twitter at @1918FluArchive.

Written by Mary Beth Reilly


The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia

Center for the History of Medicine


NEH We the People


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