The hunt for the virus causing the 1918 influenza pandemic

The hunt for the virus causing the 1918 influenza pandemic and how it has informed science and preparedness for future pandemics. Jeffery Taubenberger (NIAID) and John Oxford (QMUL) spoke at The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters as guests of our CAS project November 8th. You can watch a recording of their talks here The hunt for the virus causing the 1918 influenza pandemic – FilMet ( and also a pod-cast they did here: Part I: Reflections on a pandemic – Viten og snakkis ( Lisa Sattenspiel Tanner and Svenn-Erik Mamelund also did a follow-up podcast Part 2: Reflections on a pandemic – Viten og snakkis (

Final fall webinar

On 1 December at 1600 CET, Tobias A. Jopp and Mark Spoerer, University of Regensburg, will present “Tracing the temporal and spatial course of the Spanish flu in Germany.” Contact for a link.

Abstract: Compared to its tremendous impact, the Spanish flu of 1918-20 is notoriously poorly studied. Based on newly collected mortality data specifically for the female population (not “contaminated” by battlefield casualties), we calculate monthly all-cause excess mortality for the first three waves of the pandemic for 42 German regions. We define a measure of the intensity of the Spanish flu’s incidence on the regional level and examine various impact factors in a regression framework which include distance from the Western Front (from where the flu came), population density, agricultural labour share, female labour force participation in the industrial sector, and density of the railway network.

This will be the last webinar this semester, but stay tuned for next semester’s calendar!

Webinar videos

Catch up on the latest two PANSOC webinars:

Heather Battles, The University of Auckland, “A historical syndemic? Measles and scarlet fever in goldfields-era Victoria”:

Esyllt Jones, University of Manitoba, “Contested Concepts of Borders and Containment in the Great Influenza Pandemic Era in Canada” :

Other past videos can be found here:

Next PANSOC Webinar

Esyllt Jones, University of Manitoba, will present: “Contested Concepts of Borders and Containment in the Great Influenza Pandemic Era in Canada” on 17 November at 1600 CET. Contact for a link.

In Canada, as in other constitutionally federal systems, the response to pandemic influenza was highly decentralized and variable. Local-level tensions emerged over spatial boundaries and containment, and public trust in non-pharmaceutical interventions could not be assumed. In the post-pandemic era, public health searched for a new paradigm. The pandemic strengthened a shift from compulsion to cooperation. However, diverse public perceptions of what a functioning public health system should accomplish and how revealed those struggles over legitimacy and authority that characterize major disease outbreaks historically, including COVID-19. What were the ‘lessons’ of the pandemic? Whether and in what ways the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic shaped public health and disease containment over the longer term is still in many ways an unanswered question.


Esyllt W. Jones (PhD, FRSC) is the Humanities Research Professor in the Faculty of Arts, and Professor in the Departments of History and Community Health Sciences, at the University of Manitoba. She is a historian of infectious disease and society, and the history of movements for socialized medicine. Her books include Influenza 1918: Disease, Death and Struggle in Winnipeg (2007), Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada (2012) edited with Madga Fahrni, and Radical Medicine: the International Origins of Socialized Health Care in Canada (2019). The volume Medicare’s Histories: Origins, Opportunities, and Omissions in Canada, edited with James Hanley and Delia Gavrus, was released in June 2022.

November 3 Webinar

Heather Battles, The University of Auckland, will present the next PANSOC webinar: “A historical syndemic? Measles and scarlet fever in goldfields-era Victoria” on November 3 at 1600 Oslo time (remember our clocks “fall back” on October 30!). Contact for a link.

How do we identify a historical syndemic? In Roberts & Battles (2021), we identified a series of synchronous epidemics of measles and scarlet fever in Victoria, Australia between 1853 to 1876, suggesting a synergistic relationship. We explored this synergy, its emergence, and ending in the context of the 1850s-70s gold-mining boom and post-boom changes in fertility, mortality, and housing infrastructure, pointing to the importance of social conditions in disease evolution. This talk will build on this and discuss work-in-progress on the use of a quantitative method to test for presence of a syndemic effect. 

Heather Battles (PhD 2013, McMaster University) is a Lecturer in Biological Anthropology at The University of Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research interests centre on applying a biocultural approach to understanding the evolution and ecology of infectious diseases in human populations and their impacts (biological and social). She specializes in historical epidemics and emerging and re-emerging infections.

Next PANSOC Webinar

Ben Schneider, Oslo Metropolitan University, will present: “Work and the 1918–20 Influenza Pandemic in the US” on October 27 at 1600 CET. Contact for a link.

Work is increasingly recognized as an important part of human wellbeing (Ahmed 2003, Green 2006) and present-day researchers have evaluated changes in work-related wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic (CIPD 2021). This paper uses the first historical measure of job quality (Schneider 2022) to structure analysis of how labor and working conditions changed during the 1918–20 influenza pandemic in the United States. Contemporary reports suggest that in addition to the direct disease impacts of the pandemic, the Spanish flu also disrupted earnings and may have increased workplace accidents. This research contributes to scholarship on pandemic impacts and provides a comparison point for present-day work and wellbeing studies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Schneider is a historical social scientist of work and wellbeing and a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre for Research on Pandemics and Society, Oslo Metropolitan University. His research examines how the quality of jobs has changed in the past, focusing on the effects of disease outbreaks and technological change. His previous work analyzed technological unemployment and the incentives for innovation in the British Industrial Revolution. He has a PhD in Economic and Social History from the University of Oxford.