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May 4, 2018

GHI Sponsors Exhibit to Explore the Impact of the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic on Georgetown’s Campus

This month, Science, Technology, and International Affairs seniors Katelyn Shahbazian, Jonna Mosoff, and Marina Smith opened an exhibit on “Remembering the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic at Georgetown.”

Sponsored by the Global Health Initiative’s Great Flu Centenary Project, the exhibit explores the impact of the 1918 Spanish Flu on Georgetown University and beyond. The seniors’ semester-long work was supervised by STIA Assistant Professor Emily Mendenhall and Microbiology and Immunology Associate Professor Rebecca Katz.

Great Flu on Campus

One hundred years have passed since the epidemic swept through campus, with the first case in Georgetown on September 26, 1918. Flu cases spiked quickly in October, leading to alarm and the closure of the law and medical schools. Admissions to the hospital swelled, and all nonessential departments of the hospital—skin, stomach, and pediatrics—were closed. Many campus clubs and sports were also affected. Campus was reopened in November, but cases continued through 1919.

By the end of the epidemic, 33,719 Washington, D.C., residents had fallen ill, and 2,895 residents had died. The outbreak of influenza in Washington, D.C., and at Georgetown, dramatically impacted the daily life of students and the environment on campus. Students were forced to wrestle with the hospitalizations and deaths of friends, which closely followed similar losses from World War I.

Sourcing Primary Information

The fellows started the project by exploring different avenues for sourcing primary information: the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Georgetown Public Library, and Georgetown’s Lauinger Library archives. The majority of the information ended up coming from the archives on Georgetown’s campus, with some additional online resources provided by librarians from the Library of Congress.

“None of us had previously had an opportunity to use the archives available in the library, and it was such an exciting opportunity for us all,” said Smith. “Holding a yearbook from 1918 that presented many similarities to Georgetown today and looking at hospital charts with hundred-year-old blood spatters made me feel connected to the past in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.”

After examining everything from yearbooks to hospital records, the fellows compiled a set of documents that best represented the experiences on and around campus. Lynn Conway from Special Collections in Lauinger Library was exceptionally helpful in gathering the resources, as well as scanning everything once documents were chosen. These scans are part of the exhibit.

Merging Past and Present

After synthesizing primary resources, the fellows went to the Maker Hub on the first floor of Lauinger Library. They used the laser cutter to create a timeline and introduction on wood. They also used the 3-D printer to create a flu molecule.

“We decided to use these high-tech materials both to create a compelling and visually appealing product, and to merge the past with the present,” said Mosoff. Finally, all posters were printed in Gelardin. The project is the first to use primary resources to explore the impact of the flu on Georgetown, and one of the first that explores the impact on Washington, D.C.

“Remembering the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic at Georgetown” will be on display in the entryway to the STIA suite on the fifth floor of the Intercultural Center through graduation.