First digital resource explores 1918 flu epidemic

October 11, 2012, University of Michigan
Motor Corps and Canteen volunteers from the Detroit chapter of the American Red Cross, taking a break from delivering supplies to influenza victims. Credit: National Archives and Records Administration and the Influenza Archives

(Medical Xpress)—The University of Michigan has established the largest digital collection of materials relating to the 1918 influenza epidemic in the United States.

"The American of 1918: A Digital Encyclopedia," created by the Center for the History of Medicine in partnership with the U-M Library's MPublishing, documents 50 in the United States during fall 1918 and winter 1919—a period when the effects of influenza caused the deaths of an estimated 650,000 Americans (and 50 million people worldwide).

The encyclopedia contains more than 50,000 digitized pages, including correspondence, minutes of organization and group meetings, reports from agencies and charities, newspaper accounts, military records, diaries, photographs and more. In addition, the reference guide provides interpretive materials contributed by scholars of history and public health.

"This collection permits scholars to explore how the 1918-1919 epidemic influenced many communities and sub-communities and how individuals and society responded to a health crisis of extraordinary magnitude," said Dr. Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine.

MPublishing collaborated with the Center for the History of Medicine in the underlying architecture of the digital encyclopedia, functionality and user interface.

"We are very proud that this digital resource has broad appeal to those interested in local history, public health, the history of medicine and many other fields, and will be freely available to everyone—from researchers to elementary school students to the general public," said John Wilkin, U-M associate university librarian for publishing.

The U-M Library has been leading library digitization and since the 1995 "Making of America" project. In 2004, the U-M Library entered a partnership with to digitize its collection, which laid the groundwork for HathiTrust, an inter-institutional digital library of more than 10 million volumes, approximately 30 percent of which are freely available online.

"The digital encyclopedia fits with MPublishing's mission to bring together scholars, publishers and librarians to create innovative and accessible platforms for the dissemination of information," said Wilkin, who is also executive director of HathiTrust.

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

Explore further: Reconstructed 1918 influenza virus has yielded key insights, scientists say

More information: www.influenzaarchive.org/
Follow the project on Twitter at @1918FluArchive

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