Russian flu project wins funding from National Endowment for the Humanities

Virginia Tech has received a grant of $175,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for research about the Russian flu epidemic of the late 19th century.

The project, a collaboration with Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany, will examine medical discussion and news reporting during the epidemic, from its outbreak in late 1889 through successive waves that persisted well into 1893. Separate funding to Leibniz brings the total project research budget to more than $315,000.

Titled “Tracking the Russian Flu in U.S. and German Medical and Popular Reports, 1889-1893,” the project will collect English- and German-language reports from digitized newspapers and medical journals to create the first comprehensive searchable documentation of the disease.

The data will be used to extract facts and timelines, investigate medical and public reaction to the epidemic, and research how medical knowledge was disseminated through popular reporting.

“This project on the Russian flu exemplifies the commitment to cross-disciplinary, collaborative, and technologically astute humanities scholarship at Virginia Tech,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “I am particularly pleased to see the central role that Virginia Tech undergraduates will play in the creation of new knowledge, a distinctive feature of so many of our undergraduate majors.”

Virginia Tech participants in the project include Tom Ewing, associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and professor in the Department of History; Aditya Prakash, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and an affiliated faculty member at the Discovery Analytics Center; and Amy Nelson, associate professor in the Department of History and Innovation Catalyst Group Faculty Fellow in Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies.

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Aditya Prakash
Aditya Prakash