Tracking the Russian Flu
Kikeriki 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.


Papers, Posts, and Presentations: 

Manchester University, Medical News: Explorations in Text Mining, Digital Humanities, & the History of Medicine Workshop, Nov 2018 link

Edinburgh University, Visual Plague, Presentation, November 2018 link

German Historical Institute: Reconstructing Networks Historically, October 2018 link / pdf: Ewing GHI Network Presentation Networks

Library of Congress Reference Librarian Forum, September 26, 2017 (link)

Forum on Digital Humanities, Data Analytics, and Medical History, Virginia Tech Research Center Arlington, December 2015 (link)

Reporting the Russian Flu, presentation for German Historical Institute workshop, March 2017 (link)

Local Knowledge in Global Perspective, presentation toGerman Historical Institute workshop, June 2017 (link)

Roundtable on the Russian Flu, National Library of Medicine, July 12, 2017 (link)


Circulating Now: Revealing Data (add titles and links to three posts), with link to Data tables (link)



News reports about this project: Virginia Tech news


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
Wolfgang Nejdl, Executive Director of the L3S Research Center and Professor at the Department for Computer Science, Leibniz University of Hannove

Contact information: Tom Ewing (