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ISU history professor, students author pandemic reports for Idaho towns in 1918

July 2, 2020

Young Folks Enjoy Lifting of Quarantine 1918 newspaper article clipping photo
A newspaper clipping from the Idaho Nov. 29, 1918 The Statesman newspaper.

2020 is not the first time public gatherings in Idaho have been shut down by a pandemic.

POCATELLO – As Idaho State University history students pored over digital databases of newspapers this summer, they found that, while some things change, some parts of societies stay the same.

During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, schools were closed in communities throughout Idaho, parties were postponed, and community members fought over the importance of quarantine. Students taking Idaho History from professor Kevin Marsh had the task of telling the story of Idaho communities during the Spanish flu pandemic on an interactive, ArcGIS StoryMap for the public.

"Influenza in Idaho: How the World's Deadliest Pandemic Shaped the Gem State" is available to view at https://arcg.is/0r4qzn. Fourteen undergraduates and one graduate student teamed together to create this StoryMap using Ersi proprietary software.

The students dug into records of Idaho newspapers published in the years of 1918-1920 during Spanish Flu pandemic, said Marsh, who taught the six-week summer class, Idaho History, 4423. It gave the students experience doing research and they all published something, putting together search terms and procedures to come up with information to tell their stories.

“It was a great research and teaching experience for the students looking at Idaho history in the early 20th century through the lens of an all too familiar experience for us today as we are dealing with this coronavirus pandemic,” Marsh said. “So there are a lot of similarities, but it was also very different as well. For the students, it was a great experience in learning about that pandemic, but it was also a great research experience.”

For example, this isn’t the first time large gatherings in Pocatello and other Idaho cities have been prohibited during a pandemic. The same thing happened in the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic, as noted in one of the newspaper clipping images included in the StoryMap created by the class. The image is of a proclamation by the Bannock County Health Board and the Pocatello Health Board published in the Oct. 26, 1918 Pocatello Tribune stating:  “Owning to the prevalence of influenza, and acting upon instructions of the state board of health, it is further ordered that all outdoor as well as indoor gatherings be prohibited. This includes gatherings of any nature whatsoever.”

The StoryMap documents that during this period Idaho newspapers had headlines such as “City Closed Against Outside World” and “Young Folks Enjoy Lifting of Quarantine” and public notices saying “Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases” and “Use the Handkerchief and Do Your Bit to Protect Me.”

This is a small example of the active, engaged research program by students across all degree programs in the ISU Department of History.

“Students in their classwork put together something that is a resource for the general public, which is just a win for both sides,” Marsh said. “It gets student work outside of just the classroom, giving students not just the opportunity to develop skills, but to contribute to the larger community.”

Lower image information: "Cover Your Cough" image that appeared in the Paris (Idaho) Post on Dec. 13, 1918 that ran with a story titled "U.S. Health Service Issues Warning."




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