About this Book
- Uncovers the social and cultural history of the 1918-1919 epidemic in the United States through a wide range of perspectives.
- Argues that, contrary to the flu being an indiscriminate scourge, social identity was key in shaping experiences of the pandemic.
- Exposes Americans' frustration with the handling of the pandemic by public health authorities.
Between the years 1918 and1920, influenza raged around the globe in the worst pandemic in recorded history, killing at least fifty million people, more than half a million of them Americans. Yet despite the devastation, this catastrophic event seems but a forgotten moment in our nation's past.
American Pandemic offers a much-needed corrective to the silence surrounding the influenza outbreak. It sheds light on the social and cultural history of Americans during the pandemic, uncovering both the causes of the nation's public amnesia and the depth of the quiet remembering that endured. Focused on the primary players in this drama—patients and their families, friends, and community, public health experts, and health care professionals—historian Nancy K. Bristow draws on multiple perspectives to highlight the complex interplay between social identity, cultural norms, memory, and the epidemic. Bristow has combed a wealth of primary sources, including letters, diaries, oral histories, memoirs, novels, newspapers, magazines, photographs, government documents, and health care literature. She shows that though the pandemic caused massive disruption in the most basic patterns of American life, influenza did not create long-term social or cultural change, serving instead to reinforce the status quo and the differences and disparities that defined American life.
As the crisis waned, the pandemic slipped from the nation's public memory. The helplessness and despair Americans had suffered during the pandemic, Bristow notes, was a story poorly suited to a nation focused on optimism and progress. For countless survivors, though, the trauma never ended, shadowing the remainder of their lives with memories of loss. This book lets us hear these long-silent voices, reclaiming an important chapter in the American past.
Readership: Cultural history, history of medicine and public health, history of World War I
Table of Contents
Chapter One: "Influenza has apparently become domesticated with us": Influenza, Medicine and the Public, 1890-1918
Chapter Two: "The whole world seems up-side-down": Patients, Families and Communities in the Epidemic
Chapter Three: "Let our experience be of value to other communities": Public Health Experts and the Public
Chapter Four: "The experience was one I shall never forget": Doctors, Nurses and the Challenges of the Epidemic
Chapter Five: "The terrible and wonderful experience": Forgetting and Remembering in the Aftermath
Epilogue: The Costs of Public Amnesia
Nancy K. Bristow is Professor of History at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of Making Men Moral: Social Engineering during the Great War. Bristow is the great-granddaughter of two of the pandemic's fatalities.