Jack Hynick, '22

Our Forgotten Pandemic:

Lessons from the 1918 Spanish Flu

My project focused on the experiences of Massachusetts residents during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. With the help of local newspapers (all of which were heavily censored), personal letters, and public health reports I will explore the state and municipal government responses to the so-called Spanish Flu. In addition, I will analyze the process of scapegoating that accompanied that past pandemic – examining how the local media blamed Eastern European immigrants and African American migrants for much of the collective suffering endured during the 1918 pandemic, describing them as dangerous and threatening and casting them as sources of contagion. Much of my project will document the different ways different people tried to explain the senseless experience of mass death, even as another man-made experience of mass death continued to rage via WWI. These different ways of discussing the epidemic ranged from government-mandated censorship – specifically downplaying or even denying aspects of the pandemic in part to preserve public order and bolster morale – to popular desire to explain a tragedy and to find some way of “fighting back” against an invisible enemy, even if doing so meant unjustly blaming minority groups and playing on deep-rooted prejudices. While I might not have the space to draw connections to modern experiences of the Coronavirus, my project will hopefully encourage our readers to ask: how do different interests groups manipulate the media and governments to support their agendas during public health crises? Are we blaming the right groups for the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. How and when can we safely reopen?