Jessica Dimka Visiting Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh
Infectious diseases play an important role in human populations, influencing and being influenced by biological, social and ecological variables from the individual to the global level. Therefore, historical and current epidemics are relevant to all subfields of anthropology, while anthropological perspectives and methods that reveal important contextual factors are vital for effective public health responses. I will illustrate these points with my research exploring the 1918 influenza pandemic (the “Spanish flu”) in a small community in Newfoundland and Labrador. Using ethnographic, historical and archival data to construct an agent-based computer simulation model, I tested hypotheses about how local patterns of social organization may have influenced epidemic outcomes. For example, reduction in school attendance when older children assumed adult roles resulted in significant differences in epidemic size and timing. I will conclude the talk with a preliminary discussion of my new project which will use high-quality Norwegian records to investigate disability as a risk factor during the 1918 pandemic.