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Historic reflection

The University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine in partnership with the U-M Library’s MPublishing has released “The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918: A Digital Encyclopedia,” an engaging documentation of 50 diverse communities in the United States during fall 1918 and winter 1919, a period when the effects of influenza caused an estimated 675,000 deaths.

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 influenza epidemic influenced many communities and sub-communities and how individuals and society responded to a health crisis of extraordinary magnitude,” said Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, and Director, Center for 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, Associate University Librarian for Publishing at the University of Michigan.

The U-M Library has been leading library digitization and digital publishing since the 1995 “Making of America” project. In 2004, U-M Library entered a partnership with Google to digitize its collection, which laid the groundwork for HathiTrust, an inter-institutional digital library of over ten 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’s ongoing research in collaboration with the Global Migration and Quarantine Division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional funding was provided by an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey. The project also received funding and the prestigious We the People designation from the National Endowment for the Humanities for its efforts to strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture.

The Center for the History of Medicine, which is part of the U-M Medical School, conducts scholarly research on the history, culture, and philosophy of medicine to place contemporary medical dilemmas in context with past events, thus informing public health and medical policy.

MPublishing is the primary academic publishing enterprise of the University of Michigan. Employing the talents of publishers, librarians, copyright experts, and technologists, MPublishing builds upon the traditional publishing strengths of the University of Michigan and the University Library while creating and shaping sustainable publishing models for the future.


For more information about the project, please contact and follow the project on Twitter at @1918FluArchive.

 For more information about the event, please see


PHOTO CREDIT: American Red Cross


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