This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station during Influenza Pandemic, Washington DC, USA, National Photo Company, 1918. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the Bombay plague epidemic of 1896 to how the 1918 influenza pandemic nearly derailed the women’s suffrage movement, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Bombay Plague Epidemic of 1896 and Modern Indian Politics with Shruti Kapila

The seventh episode of The History of Now, a podcast from the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. Listen to Shruti Kapila with Chris Clark about The Bombay Plague Epidemic of 1896. [listen here]

The Bandung Conference as global event


The 1955 Bandung conference was one of the most important conferences held in the twentieth century. It’s also one of the least well known. Leaders of the major independent Asian and African countries gathered at this Indonesian city from April 18-22, 1955. There, they first set in motion the concept of South-South solidarity — newly-independent countries of Africa and Asia gathering to seek common ground. It was a French writer who dubbed this group “the Third World.” It was at the United Nations where the new independent governments began to found common ground. But it was in Bandung where it began. This e-dossier tells the story of the Bandung conference through the conference bulletin and additional documents.

The African-Asian Conference Bulletin was published in the lead-up and aftermath to the conference and on a daily basis while the conference was going on. It was produced by a conference secretariat staff and published by the Indonesian ministry of information. Molly Bondan, a member of the conference information staff, recalled that much of the material produced in English at Bandung aimed at outside audiences. [continue reading]

In 1918, there was an anti-mask league in San Francisco

Covid-19 News

As in every city, it is impossible to know just how the first case of influenza was contracted in San Francisco. According to contemporary newspaper reports, however, a local man who had returned to his home after a recent trip to Chicago brought the disease to San Francisco. Learning of the case on September 23, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. William C. Hassler ordered the man to the city hospital and placed his home under quarantine. The hope was that these actions might stop the spread of the disease in its tracks, sparing San Francisco from an epidemic. However, by October 9 the city had at least 169 cases of influenza. Only a week later that number had jumped to over 2,000. San Francisco’s epidemic had started.

As the number of cases began to rise sharply, the city Board of Health issued a series of recommendations to the public on how best to avoid contracting influenza. City residents were advised to avoid streetcars during peak rush hour times, asked to not dance in public places and to avoid crowds, and instructed to pay particular attention to their personal hygiene as well as that of their children. Dance halls were closed. Streetcar conductors were ordered to keep the windows of their cars open in all but rainy weather, hospitals were ordered to only accept patients who absolutely required their care, and hospital physicians and nurses were instructed to wear gauze masks when with flu patients. As in nearly every other American city, the need for nurses was severe, and the board made the call for volunteers and for existing nurses to put in extra hours each day until the epidemic subsided. [continue reading]

The Moral Crisis of the Pandemic

Jeremy Adelman
Project Syndicate

COVID-19 has renewed the significance of locality in our lives. Social isolation and, in many places, the limits of national authority have highlighted the importance of close-to-home resources and bottom-up solutions to an invisible menace. International trade and travel have brought the virus into our neighborhoods and workplaces, but regional and local health services have had to mobilize to contain the pandemic.

Not surprisingly, we are riveted by stories of community resilience in the face of an unseen peril. We observe this acuity and resourcefulness in the daily briefings of US state governors and see it in the forbearance of neighbors and the sacrifices of health-care workers. National figures? Not so much. We continue to tell ourselves, “The world is a dangerous place. Thank goodness for neighbors and local authorities and institutions.” [continue reading]

A pandemic nearly derailed the women’s suffrage movement

Ellen Carol Dubois
National Geographic

“These are sad times for the whole world, grown unexpectedly sadder by the sudden and sweeping epidemic of influenza,” wrote Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, in a letter to supporters in 1918. “This new affliction is bringing sorrow into many suffrage homes and is presenting a serious new obstacle in our Referendum campaigns and in the Congressional and Senatorial campaigns,” she continued. “We must therefore be prepared for failure.”

Suffragists had been fighting for women’s right to vote for 70 years, and victory seemed almost in reach. Even with the United States fully mobilized for World War I. President Woodrow Wilson had come out in support of a constitutional amendment, and the House of Representatives had passed it. Then the Spanish flu struck, and the leaders of one of the longest-running political movements in the country’s history had to figure out how to continue their campaign in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in modern times. (See how some cities ‘flattened the curve’ of the flu pandemic.) [continue reading]