In a previous post, I laid out what I see as some of the overarching issues that I think are important to keep in mind when teaching the influenza pandemic of 1918 in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post I would like to go over some additional themes that I find particularly useful when I discuss the 1918 catastrophe with my students. As in my previous effort, my focus here is on approaches that might be helpful for general history courses that focus on the United States (as opposed to, say, classes on world history or clinically-oriented courses intended for healthcare providers). As will probably become clear, I approach the topic primarily from the perspective of a historian of medicine. I hope this post will help explain how some of the insights from my field can be applied to classes in US history more generally.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 is often left out of history courses and other classes that cover the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has made the topic newly relevant and as a result many educators may want to add a lecture or other material on the 1918 pandemic into their courses. In this post I’d like to offer some general information about the 1918 pandemic and some suggestions about how to discuss it with students in the context of COVID-19 that might be helpful for historians and others who do not have a lot of experience with the history of medicine or public health.
Working with three first-year students and two graduate students at Georgia State University, I oversaw the development of a self-guided walking tour that uses David Fort Godshalk’s Veiled Visions to describe the horrific events that occurred on Saturday, September 22nd, the first day of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot. The tour, available for free on Emory University’s mobile-optimized OpenTour website, takes about an hour to complete and extends approximately three quarters of a mile across downtown Atlanta. The race riot raged for three days, as angry mobs stormed from downtown Atlanta to surrounding neighborhoods.