A world-wide epidemic caused by influenza viruses led to between 50 and 100 million deaths in 1918 and 1919 (as much as 1 of every 18 people). Because neutral Spain was not censoring news it became associated with Spain but its origins are more likely to be the USA or France. It came in three waves (Spring 1918, Autumn 1918, and Winter 1919) and the second wave was unusually deadly. And unlike typical flu pandemics it disproportionately killed young healthy adults. Many researchers have suggested that the conditions of the war significantly aided the spread of the disease. And others have argued that the course of the war (and subsequent peace treaty) was influenced by the pandemic. To help understand questions about the worst diseaster in history we have built a computer model of the pandemic.
See the student guide.
It can be used in courses in history (of World War One or epidemics), public health, geography, or computer modelling. See Things to think about in the student guide. It can be used as a focus of discussions about uncertainties and controversies in history. And how, if at all, one can attempt to answer questions in counter-factual history.
Many aspects of the Spanish Flu are not known (or are debated):
Stories of whole villages starving in Alaska (America’s forgotten pandemic [not open access]) and Labrador ( "the virus had decimated Okak, killing 204 of its 263 residents" and "Seven-year-old Martha Joshua survived alone for five weeks in Uivaq before a search party from Okak found her in early January." from http://www.heritage.nf.ca/society/sflu.html. A documentary film was made of this - http://www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/collection/film/?id=16164 - freely available at http://apsts.alberta.ca/video/watch/2qPkzCS4J78rSRNWJrEQno).
First-hand account videos
Please, Let Me Put Him in a Macaroni Box: The Spanish Influenza of 1918 in Philadelphia [OER] An eye witness describes how there were huge numbers of bodies
He’ll Come Home in a Box: The Spanish Influenza of 1918 Comes to Montana [OER] Similar to the above.
Pandemic of Influenza 1918-19 by the UK Ministry of Health, a medical history of the pandemic published in 1920. [OER/public domain]
America’s forgotten pandemic by Alfred Crosby [not OER]
The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. There is a very good interview with him on YouTube.
Living With Enza by Mark Honigsbaum
Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth -- first-hand account of the hospital at Etaples
Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider -- novella based upon first-hand account of the illness
Two short videos of Michael Palin interviewing experts [open access]
Yale history course Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 has one lecture on Pandemic Influenza which has a 24-minute segment on the Spanish Flu. [OER]