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The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: Perspectives from the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas

María-Isabel Porras-Gallo
Ryan A. Davis
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 325
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  • Book Info
    The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919
    Book Description:

    The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 sheds new light on what the World Health Organization described as "the single most devastating infectious disease outbreak ever recorded" by situating the Iberian Peninsula as the key point of connection, both epidemiologically and discursively, between Europe and the Americas. The essays in this volume elucidate specific aspects of the pandemic that have received minimal attention until now, including social control, gender, class, religion, national identity, and military medicine's reactions to the pandemic and its relationship with civilian medicine, all in the context of World War I. As the authors point out, however, the experiences of 1918-19 remain persistently relevant to contemporary life, particularly in view of events such as the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. Contributors: Mercedes Pascual Artiaga, Catherine Belling, Josep Bernabeu-Mestre, Ryan A, Davis, Esteban Domingo, Magda Fahrni, Hernán Feldman, Pilar León-Sanz, Maria Luísa Lima, Maria deFátima Nunes, María-Isabel Porras-Gallo, Anny Jackeline Torres Silveira, José Manuel Sobral, Paulo Silveira e Sousa, Christiane Maria Cruz de Souza. María-Isabel Porras-Gallo is Professor of History of Science in the Medical Faculty of Ciudad Real at the University of Castile-La Mancha (Spain). She is the author of Un reto para la sociedad madrileña: la epidemia de gripe de 1918-1919 and co-editor of El drama de la polio. Un problema social y familiar en la España franquista. Ryan A. Davis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University. He is the author of The Spanish Flu: Narrative and Cultural Identity in Spain, 1918.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-864-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Emerging Perspectives of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19
    (pp. 1-18)
    María-Isabel Porras-Gallo and Ryan A. Davis

    Over the past decade the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918–19 has commanded an increasing amount of attention from professionals and laypersons alike. In 1997 pathologist Jeffery Taubenberger and his team published the first partial genetic sequencing of the virus’s RNA, bringing science one step closer to unlocking the mysteries of a disease that in 1918 dealt the first major blow to what Eugenia Tognotti has called the “scientific triumphalism” of the germ theory of disease.¹ The year 1918 was an era marked by the recent and astounding discoveries of the causative agents of diseases like cholera (1884), anthrax (1877),...

  4. Part One Scientific Discourse:: Now and Then

    • Chapter One The Great Evolutionary Potential of Viruses: The 1918 Flu as a Paradigm of Disease Emergence
      (pp. 21-38)
      Esteban Domingo

      The 1918 Spanish influenza is one of the most dramatic examples of the unpredictable threat that viral epidemics represent for the human population. In the words of Joshua Lederberg, “The survival of the human species is not a preordained evolutionary program. Abundant resources of genetic variation exist for viruses to learn new tricks, not necessarily confined to what happens routinely or even frequently.”¹ Since 1918 we have learned about the nature of viruses, their structure, their replication in intimate relationship with their host cells and organisms, and their mechanisms of evolutionary change. Concerning the “tricks” mentioned by Lederberg, we have...

    • Chapter Two Spanish Flu in Brazil: Searching for Causes during the Epidemic Horror
      (pp. 39-55)
      Liane Maria Bertucci

      In Brazil the first systematic scientific discussions about the Spanish flu epidemic took place in September 1918, after members of the Brazilian Medical Mission and soldiers of the Brazilian army—whose ships had anchored in Dakar, Senegal (then a French colony)—contracted the disease, many of whom died.¹ Dakar was one of the main ports for the transit of international troops headed for the war in Europe.² While the Brazilian government was discussing how to send medicines to victims and whether to bring all their soldiers and doctors in Africa back to Brazil, the Brazilian newspapers published articles telling of...

    • Chapter Three Ricardo Jorge and the Construction of a Medico-Sanitary Public Discourse: Portugal and International Scientific Networks
      (pp. 56-72)
      Maria de Fátima Nunes

      Despite the impact of thepeste pneumónica—the Portuguese term for the Spanish flu—on Portuguese society, the memory of the pandemic in Portuguese historiography and in public opinion circles has been sparse, with the exception of family oral history and specific social contexts that have kept the tragedy alive (e.g., the death of the painter Amadeu de Sousa Cardoso or the death of the young Francisco Marto, one of the witnesses of the religious occurrence of 1917 known as the “Fátima miracle”).¹ Only recently have scholars begun to offer a more systematic picture of the pandemic experience in Portugal....

  5. Part Two Social Responses:: Human and Institutional Actors

    • Chapter Four And to Make Things Worse, the Flu: The Spanish Influenza in a Revolutionary Portugal
      (pp. 75-92)
      José Manuel Sobral, Maria Luísa Lima and Paulo Silveira e Sousa

      In the first decades of the twentieth century, although Portuguese society was undergoing a transformation process marked by a growing population, industrialization, and urban development, the country remained predominantly rural. At the start of the decade in which the epidemic outbreak known internationally as the Spanish influenza occurred, nearly 80 percent of the population was tied to agriculture, the vast majority being small agricultural landowners and poor rural workers.¹ In 1920, the census year closest to the pandemic, Portugal’s population was 6,032,991; of this number, only 676,107 lived in the country’s largest cities of Lisbon and Porto, while 4,929,365 lived...

    • Chapter Five Between the Pandemic and World War I: The 1918–19 Influenza Pandemic in the Spanish Army, through the Eyes of the Press
      (pp. 93-110)
      María-Isabel Porras-Gallo

      As noted in the introduction to this volume, the 1918–19 influenza pandemic started when Spain was very backward in public health matters and when the political crisis and adverse socioeconomic conditions made it difficult to answer the call for modernization from different medical sectors and health authorities.¹ The Military Medical Service, having undergone a radical transformation during the reign of Isabel II (1833–68), was fighting to achieve scientific supremacy vis-à-vis an impoverished Civilian Public Health Service.² But the Spanish army needed to reorganize and improve some of its infrastructure for this to occur. For instance, the hygienic conditions...

    • Chapter Six The Reign of the Spanish Flu: Impact and Responses to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Minas Gerais, Brazil
      (pp. 111-129)
      Anny Jackeline Torres Silveira

      When the 1918 influenza pandemic irrupted onto the world, Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, had been in existence for only two decades. Inaugurated on December 12, 1897, the city was constructed in accordance with the scientific knowledge of engineering and other propositions considered essential for the planning and good governance of urban spaces and was therefore proclaimed young and modern. Despite harking back to the colonial period, the project to construct a new capital in Minas became effective only with the arrival of the republic in 1889.

      The construction of the new capital of...

    • Chapter Seven The Spanish Flu in Bahia, Brazil: Prophylaxis and Healing Practices
      (pp. 130-151)
      Christiane Maria Cruz de Souza

      The Spanish flu was the biggest and most devastating disease of the twentieth century, infecting more than six hundred million people and killing between forty and one hundred million people worldwide in a short time span.¹ The disease first occurred in the Northern Hemisphere in March 1918. It was spring, an unusual time for flu, but the low rate of mortality did not cause excessive concern among doctors and public health officials in the countries where the outbreak occurred. But the flu returned in August of the same year, this time in a much more virulent form, spreading to other...

    • Chapter Eight A Collaborative Experience: The Mutual Benefit Societies’ Responses to the 1918–19 Influenza Pandemic in Pamplona, Spain
      (pp. 152-170)
      Pilar León-Sanz

      The influenza pandemic that wreaked havoc in Europe in 1918 was an ordeal for the societies it affected, as evidenced by governments’ efforts to fight it, health professionals’ responses to it, and the general population’s behavior.¹ Scholarly attention to these issues has expanded our understanding of the epidemic beyond what we learn from morbimortality data, which are important in their own right. Nevertheless, relatively little work has been done on nongovernmental and not-for-profit organizations during the 1918–19 epidemic, despite current broader interest in the provision of welfare services “outside the purview of the State” from individuals, families, mutual-aid associations,...

  6. Part Three Interpreting the Epidemic:: Sociocultural Dynamics and Perspectives

    • Chapter Nine A Tale of Two Spains: Narrating the Nation during the 1918–19 Influenza Epidemic
      (pp. 173-193)
      Ryan A. Davis

      Although Spain remains nominally connected to the 1918–19 Spanish influenza epidemic, scholars often seek to minimize the connection between the country and the disease, preferring instead to emphasize its international scope. Thus Beatriz Echeverri, one of the few who has written on Spain’s experience of the epidemic to a broader scholarly audience, states categorically, “Spanish flu had nothing ‘Spanish’ about it.”¹ Considering that the Spanish flu neither originated in Spain, nor was it confined only to the country, she is right. Yet, in the rush to reduce Spain’s relation to the disease to a function of the name the...

    • Chapter Ten The Spanish Flu in Argentina: An Alarming Hostage
      (pp. 194-214)
      Hernán Feldman

      After more than three decades of presidents affiliated with a closely knit aristocratic circle, in 1912 the Argentine Congress implemented more transparent electoral laws that allowed the Radical Party led by popular caudillo Hipólito Yrigoyen to seize political power in 1916. The leader of the Radical Party generally cultivated an austere and mysterious style, was rarely seen in public, handled a myriad of matters personally, and believed in old-fashioned ways. He and his cadres consistently ignored criticisms expressed by the press and the opposition. At a time in which the Argentine press vociferously demanded that the country abandon neutrality and...

    • Chapter Eleven Epidemic Disease, Local Government, and Social Control: The Example of the City of Alicante, Spain
      (pp. 215-229)
      Josep Bernabeu-Mestre and Mercedes Pascual Artiaga

      Throughout history, urban societies, the social structures that form them, and their capacity for reaction have been called into question as a result of periodic mortality crises caused by infectious diseases of epidemic proportions. In the contemporary age alone, the European Mediterranean area has suffered outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera in the nineteenth century and an epidemic of influenza in 1918–19.¹ Infectious processes of this kind usually cause intense and complex reactions due to the health-rlated, social, economic, political, and demographic consequences that they bring.² Terror, panic, instinctive selfishness, a moral explanation of the disease analyzed in terms...

    • Chapter Twelve The Gendered Dimensions of Epidemic Disease: Influenza in Montreal, Canada, 1918–20
      (pp. 230-247)
      Magda Fahrni

      In recent years, a number of social historians of medicine have begun to apply the insights of gender history to their studies of health and illness. This chapter builds on such work by examining the influenza pandemic of 1918–20 through a gendered lens, revealing the ways in which the epidemic reaffirmed (and, very occasionally, altered) the roles and responsibilities assigned to men and women respectively in Montreal, Canada’s early twentieth-century metropolis.

      On the surface, the Montreal epidemic might appear to have been gender-neutral. Historians of other places have pointed out that, globally, more men than women died of influenza...

    • Chapter Thirteen Remembering and Reconstructing: Fictions of the 1918–19 Influenza Pandemic
      (pp. 248-264)
      Catherine Belling

      Narrative is the medium that must carry and communicate the burden of past suffering. In Myla Goldberg’s historical novel, a Boston family learns in the fall of 1918 that the eldest son has died of influenza in the army. Lydia, his sister, is walking home from the hospital—where she has just learned of her little nephew’s death from the flu—when from the street she hears the terrible sound of her family’s grieving. She knows it is being replicated throughout the city and imagines that the air itself must be damaged by the weight of so much pain. She...

  7. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 265-268)
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 269-274)
  9. Index
    (pp. 275-282)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)