History of Medicine

'A History of the Great Influenza Pandemics'

Influenza does not usually strike terror into people in the manner of cholera or cancer. But while ‘flu’ may not be a particularly metaphorical disease, influenza has often been compared to a ‘fiend’. This was nowhere more true than in the 1890s when a series of epidemics of ‘Russian influenza’ – so-called because the first outbreak occurred in St Petersburg in 1889 – swept the British isles, provoking widespread panic, hysteria and dread. This dread of flu was amplified by rapid telegraphic communications from Russia and the death of prominent invdividuals, such as Queen Victoria’s grandson the Duke of Clarence. Another factor was the expansion in working class literacy and the growth of Victorian mass market newspapers and periodicals.

As the flu became a site for sensation, attention increasingly focussed on the peculiar nervous sequels of the disease. This shift in influenza's medical identity is captured by this satirical image that appeared in 1895 in the comic weekly,
Fun, in which it is suggested that not even 'stalwart London policeman' can resist the ‘influenza fiend’. My new book, A History of the Great Influenza Pandemics (I.B. Tauris, September 2013), probes these ‘nervous discourses’ of influenza further, using medical and scientific writings to trace the transformations in influenza’s identity from the 1890s and up to 1918, when another great pandemic convulsed the world.

Journalist & Author

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The Politics of Empathy’, History of Emotions blog, Centre for the History of the Emotions, Queen Mary University of London, 3 December 2012.

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‘Angst und Ansteckung zwischen Epidemien und Finanzkrise’,
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‘Putting Pandemics in Perspective’, History and Policy, October 2011.

The Contagious Moment’, History of Emotions blog, Centre for the History of the Emotions, Queen Mary University of London, 17 October 2011.

Russian influenza in the UK: lessons learned, opportunities missed’, Vaccine Special Influenza
Supplement, 29, 2, (22 July 2011): B11-B15

The Great Dread: Cultural and Psychological Impacts and Responses to the “Russian” Influenza in the United Kingdom, 1889–1893,’ Social History of Medicine 23, 2 (August 2010): 299-319. Roy Porter Student Essay Prize-Winner.

The Patient’s View: John Donne and Katharine Anne Porter,’ The Lancet (July 18, 2009), Vol. 374, 9685: 194-195.

Pandemic,’ The Lancet (June 6, 2009), Vol 373, 9679: 1939.

‘Cinchona,’ (with Merlin Willcox), in Willcox M., Bodeker G., and Rosoanaivo P. eds,Traditional Medicinal Plants and Malaria. CRC Press, 2004