Tracking the Russian Flu: US and German Language PeriodicalsKikeriki 1890Jan30 Cartoon

Project Summary:
This project examines medical discussion as well as news reporting during the Russian influenza epidemic, from its outbreak in late 1889 through the successive waves that lasted through 1893. It will collect English and German-language reports in digitized newspapers and medical journals, leading to the first comprehensive searchable documentation of the disease. The data will be used to extract facts and timelines regarding the disease, investigate medical and public reaction to the spreading epidemic and research how medical knowledge was disseminated via popular reporting. As a bilingual project, developing methods and tools that work across both English-language and German-language sources, this project offers unique insights into a historical era when transnational medical research and global news reporting were important parts of the collective human experience.

Project Team

Tom Ewing, Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and Professor in the Department of History, Virginia Tech
B. Aditya Prakash, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and an affiliated faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center (DAC), Virginia Tech
Amy Nelson, an Associate Professor in the Department of History and Innovation Catalyst Group Faculty Fellow in Technology, Learning, and Online Systems (TLOS), Virginia Tech
J. B. Potter, a Graduate Assistant in the Department of History at Virginia Tech
Wolfgang Nejdl, Executive Director of the L3S Research Center and Professor at the Department for Computer Science, Leibniz University of Hannover
Katja Markert, a Researcher at the L3S Research Center, Leibniz University of Hannover

Contact information: Tom Ewing (

Papers and Presentations: 
Forum on Digital Humanities, Data Analytics, and Medical History, Virginia Tech Research Center Arlington, December 2015
American Association for the History of Medicine, April 2016 (abstract)

Reporting the Russian Flu, presentation for GHI workshop, March 2017 (link)

News reports about this project: Virginia Tech news