An Epidemiology of Information: Data Mining the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Office of Digital Humanities

1918 poster of a sick man, with text warning about the spread of influenza
Photo caption

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases - As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells". U.S. Public Health ad on dangers of Spanish Flu epidemic during World War I.

1918 ad via U.S. Public Health Service, Wikimedia Commons.

This project seeks to harness the power of data mining techniques with the interpretive analytics of the humanities and social sciences to understand how newspapers shaped public opinion and represented authoritative knowledge during the deadline 1918 influenza pandemic. The project makes use of the more than 100 newspaper titles for 1918 available from Chronicling America at the United States Library of Congress and the Peel’s Prairie Provinces collection at the University of Alberta Library. The application of algorithmic techniques enabled the domain expert to systematically explore a broad repository of data and identify qualitative features of the pandemic in the small scale as well as the genealogy of information flow in the large scale. This research provided methods for understanding the spread of information and the flow of disease in other societies facing the threat of pandemics.

This project was funded in part by an NEH award through the Digging into Data Challenge, an initiative of the Trans-Atlantic Platform.