“The Sword Outside, the Plague Within: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Europe” represents the first transnational, cultural history of the 1918 “Spanish” flu in Europe. The 1918 flu killed over fifty million people, including two to three million Europeans, in under a year. Accompanied by bacterial pneumonia, it caused the greatest loss of life within the shortest time in human history. Most victims were between twenty and forty years old and died in the final months of a war that already killed fifteen million Europeans. My project gives a ground-level perspective of the pandemic via its unique source base of 1,000 survivors’ testimonies (gathered from across ten European countries) and its innovative methodology, which rests on a searchable database of the memories and a digital map of the survivors’ locations during the pandemic. A century later, and with the social upheavals of the 2019 coronavirus still burdening the continent, my project challenges us to consider how Europeans would react to a pandemic that is eighty times as deadly and with half the average age of death.
John Eicher is an Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Pennsylvania State University-Altoona. Before assuming this position in 2017, he served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington D.C. (GHI). Tending towards the comparative and transnational, his research focuses on the movements of people and diseases around the world. He also has a deep interest in rural history, oral history, and public history. In 2020, his prize-winning dissertation was published as a book titled Exiled Among Nations: German and Mennonite Mythologies in a Transnational Age, with Cambridge University Press. It has since won five book awards. Research for this manuscript was supported by the GHI, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies at the Free University of Berlin, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Religious Research Association, and the Mennonite Historical Society. His work has also been published in Comparative Studies in Society and History, German Studies Review, and Journal of Mennonite Studies.