Dienstag, 27. November 2007

Spanish Influenza - Etymology and local names

In September 1998 I attended the international conference "The Spanish Flu 1918-1998: Reflections on the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 after 80 Years", where I helped a little bit with the organization, presented a paper on etymology, a poster on epidemiology and a working bibliography. The conference was organized by Dr. Howard Phillips (Historian, University of Cape Town) and Prof. David Killingray (Historian, Goldsmiths College, University of London) both are well known for their research on Spanish Influenza.
Between September 12 and 15 1998 research groups from 15 countries presented 37 papers arranged in 12 sessions. Virologists and medical historians talked about the virus, epidemiology and the medical experience; geographers, ethnologists, statisticians and historians presented case studies and put the pandemic into a greater perspective (regional, demographical, historical). 16 Papers were later published in the book "The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 - New perspectives", edited by Howard Phillips and David Killingray (Routledge Studies in the Social History of Medicine 12; London 2003) (here a link to the publisher).
My paper had a very long title: "What’s in a name. Spanish Influenza in sub-Saharan Africa and what local names say about the perception of this pandemic" and was presented in session 10 „Recollections of the pandemic”. This paper was not selected for publication in the mentioned book and I converted the paper into a pdf-file that you can find here.
At least my 50 pages bibliography on regional studies could be found in the mentioned book!

Here is an abstract of my paper:
During research for an interregional comparative study on social and economic patterns of reaction to the Spanish Influenza in sub-Saharan Africa I came across many local and regional names for this disease. Out of curiosity I started a data base with these different names.
It will be argued that names and descriptions for Spanish Influenza mirror patterns of reaction. Names are somehow sources for history. I do not want to overemphasise the process of naming but I just want to show how popular perceptions help to understand the pandemic.
I start with a general look at the Spanish Influenza and give examples for names pinpointing to areas of origin. The question who was responsible for the calamity leads to a discussion of an „imperial” disease introduced by the „White Man”. The paper continues with examples for religious explanations and descriptions of the disease as a natural disaster. The perceived strangeness of the disease lead to several names that are describing the most important symptoms. My paper ends with remarks on the importance of the Spanish influenza for personal periodization in oral history and oral tradition.
Naming is based on perception of significance of an event. What was Spanish on the „Spanish Influenza” and why is the disease called „Influenza” after all. Therefore the papers starts with the etymology of the name "Influenza" and I argue that a combination of a strange astronomical phenomenon and a serious epidemic in the winter 1503-1504 in Italy baptised the disease as influenza.

An introduction to my earlier case study on Spanish Influenza in Kenya could be found here.

Keywords: Spanish Influenza, Spanische Grippe, pandemic, Pandemie, epidemic, Epidemie, epidemiology, Etymologie, Wortursprung, 1918-1920
Regional focus: Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, South Rhodesia, Zimbabwe

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