Wednesday, April 22, 2020

SearchResearch Challenge (4/22/20): The Future Through the Past - Using archival news to see what's next in COVID

The most undervalued resource on the internet... 

... is probably the archive of newspapers.  

Reading through old news is incredibly illuminating of our own time.  You can, in many cases, see the Future Through the Past. 

As someone wise said, "History does not repeat, but it does rhyme."  You see that in a news headline like this one from the Long Beach Press paper of 1919.  

Which looks very much like news that we're seeing today.  

NPR commentator Tim Mak wrote a truly remarkable (and lengthy) blog post about the parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.  

This made me start thinking that there's an interesting SRS Challenge here.  And here it is... 

1.  Can you find articles from the news archives of 1918 and 1919 that will show us what happened back then, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, give us a clue about what might happen in the months and years ahead? 

That is, can we see the Future Through the Past? 

Obviously, you'll need to first figure out how to access and search through news archives.  (See my earlier SRS post about this:  Online News Archives and another one for some tips about how to do this.)  

The trick here will be to find the right search terms that will let you discover the major events of the pandemic, and what we should look forward to.  Off the top of my head, I'm not sure what to search for to get into this topic.  

This means that you'll have to clarify your research questions as you read along.  For example, in the above example, the phrase "Anti-Mask League" is a promising lead.  A clarifying question might be: What happened to the League?  

You'll also have to figure out what questions you might like to see answered about the future course of COVID.  Here are some thoughts: 

a. How did your nation recover from the economic downturn caused by the Spanish Flu?  What articles can you find that tell us what to look for?  
b. How well did the protests against mask measures work out?  Were the protesters successful?  What happened to the number of flu cases after people stopped wearing masks?  
c. Was the course of the Spanish Flu pretty simple, or was it (as some have predicted about COVID), fairly up-and-down for quite a while after the initial outbreak? 
d. Why did the Spanish Flu finally go away?  (Or did it?)  Did someone develop a vaccine for it, or why did it stop being a pandemic?  

I'm looking forward to our discoveries!  

Be sure to say WHAT your question is (be clear about what you're searching for), then tell us HOW you found it (what online news archive did you use), and what your ANSWER/DISCOVERY is.  

And, as Jon points out in the comments, I'm really interested in what you find in the news archives of your country (or state, or province, or parish).  

Forward... into the past!  

Search on!  


  1. I started with

    To Prevent influenza (1918) In that site, I am searching [Spanish Flu] ["Anti-Mask League"] and at the moment no the results I wanted. Still need to check them again.

    ["Anti-Mask League"] on Google, shows very interesting links to visit and read

    THREAD - History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes: a thread about the **Anti-Mask League** of 1919. I wonder if the Spanish Flu in California is now how thankfully not as much cases as in other parts of The United States. Maybe some degree of protection passed?

    [Spanish flu timeline]

    1918 Pandemic Influenza Historic Timeline by CDC A quick view, seems again, similar (in a degree) to what we are living. Hopefully this time with Science and Technology, world doesn't need more than a year.

    Also, this made me think, our "Global" world in this case makes us more dependent one country to another, creating bigger financial problems. Also, maybe the plastic bags coming soon again. I think now with Covid19 those bags are safer.

    The 1918 Spanish Flu and What It Cost Humanity: A Timeline

    Will make more research and read more links

    1. I was thinking last night, about something. It sounds stupid, dumb or maybe worst. I wonder how the night helps to decrease Covid19 impact. How much the night, due to the fact that most people are in their homes and open business closed, social distancing is even bigger. Have any of you read something about that? Google, Apple and Facebook are measuring mobility but I haven't seen any data about night. Maybe it is insignificant the change. I think, maybe is helping a lot. What do you think?

      In the Challenge, I know it is not what Dr. Russell is asking, but was interesting.

      Searched [Qué produjo la gripa española? What caused Spanish flu?

      In Spanish article is about what 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' (PNAS) published (no date mentioned) Therefore, searched for that adding Michael Worobey

      2014 Reading that, made me wonder [Who invented surgical masks] I searched first in Spanish using "cubrebocas" and that gave me the Wikipedia article in which mentions first we had cloth facemasks and later surgical masks. And now again millions are using cloth. First one was used in 1897. A design by Wu Lien-teh (starting to read about him and how another epidemic event led to creae the mask) first in empirical testing.

      Reading these articles, also learned (at least remembered) why Spanish flu got that name. It was not a disease that was initiated in Spain.

      [Hemeroteca diarios Mexico] to find newspapers from the past in Mexico. Also visited, Dr. Russell's link to Wikipedia
      10 grandes hemerotecas digitales en las que ponerse al día sobre nuestro pasado y sin salir de casa

      Hemeroteca Nacional de México I'm trying to understand how to search. Tried with advanced search and normal and found not the results we are looking for.

      Also remembered Puebla Antigua. Therefore searched on Twitter [1918 @PueblaAntigua]
      Health office, Puebla

      France will try Nicotine parches on Coronavirus

      In other words, nicotine could block the virus from entering the body through neurons in the olfactory system or through lung cells...But,the researchers warn that people should not take up smoking, as smokers who do become infected with Covid-19 tend to develop more serious symptoms.

      Out of topic. Interesting SRS Challenge. Read on Twitter that someone is looking for Coca Cola photos in World Cup stadiums previous to 1958 (the oldest one he has found.) This brand has been since Brazil 1950. I think it's not possible to search for that. That is photos of those games or 1954 that show an specific brand

    2. In my previous comment, I mentioned my questions about night and Covid19. Just to clarify, I don't think night cures, prevent infection or similar. It is just curiosity about how at night, as people is more in their homes, social distancing is bigger. And that, I guess, also helps to slow the infections rate. My doubt is in which degree and how mobility has been changing at night. Maybe it is not relevant.

      Also, wanted to share this article. It is interesting how everyday we learn something new.
      Air travel safer than you think and how about restaurants?

      Doing a TBT (not being Thursday) searching for more informtion about Spanish Flu in Puebla, searched with @pueblaantigua, changing years 1918, 1919, 20, 21. And found this about Popocatepetl eruption and made me remeber that SRS Challenge

      Eruption between 1920 and 1929 image

    3. Went to YouTube and they suggested:

      8 million views. YouTube: 1918 Spanish Flu historical documentary | Swine Flu Pandemic | Deadly plague of 1918. 40 minutes and starting to watch this, suggested this other. Haven't seen this.

      Cambridge University: Spanish Flu: a warning from history (2018) Virus was going from human to human until 1957!

      From this one, there are other. One seems interesting is from The New Yorker: "How the Coronavirus Pandemic Compares to the Spanish Flu."

      With [Puebla periodicos 1918] found interesting results.

      Wikipedia Puebla: Cronología. Spanish: Timeline of Puebla

      La influenza causó 2 mil 101 muertes en Puebla en 1918

      [Periódicos del pasado México online]

      Biblioteca Mexico

      Later will try with: [what papers said about Spanish flu in 1918]

    4. Yesterday, thinking more about the Challenge, decided to search for 2 situations we are living in the world: Schools closed and sports. Therefore, searched [schools during Spanish influenza] and later changed schools for sports. Interesting results.

      The first one I read, and liked was this one. I remembered Snopes from Dr. Russell's Book and Challenges:
      Did Cities Close Schools, Businesses During the 1918 Pandemic?

      Found "key words" like Dr. Russell says: Newspapers clipping. And also shows some articles that we are looking for.

      Then, wanted to do same search as we did in the past

      link text
      SRS: A note about searching Google Scanned Newspaper archives And, that doesn't work anymore. At least, I couldn't. When visited the link, noticed for the first time Fact Check on Google News. Version in Spanish doesn't have it, yet.

      Then searched [Search Google news archive 2019]
      2019: How to Search the Google News Archive I liked because it describes and gives tips. However, I couldn't restrict sources and searching with the example for Spanish Influenza didn't give any results. So, I am doing something wrong. I also liked the "use generic terms." That is something Dr. Russell always says. And never thought for example, the case of WWI. When we search newspapers from the past from those times that word will never appear.

      I am still trying to understand how to search. The newspapers are there, so there should be a way to search them and not going one by one.

      Finally, returned to

      Clippings and searched for Spanish Influenza

  2. Dan, when you say "the nation" are we to think you mean only your's? Or maybe my nation or Ramon's, or anyone's ?

    This is really interesting. I have been fishing in deep waters to get a feel for what is out there. Me love old newspapers.

    1. Oh... Great point. Of course I mean YOUR country. Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Australia, Russia, etc. It would be great to see how we see different historical stories by country.

      Thanks for pointing that out. (I'll edit the post to reflect this.)

    2. there's a list for that (for the border sensitive)… don't know if it includes Nova Scotia - excluding denturists… hard to imagine…
      along with some flag examples – it would be an exercise to list all… and it is a growing, inclusive list
      a fond look back at 1918…
      a century span
      fwiw, I thought Dan lived in East Googlelaniastan… near the border with AIania…
      — what country does this come from?

  3. Just a random background browse via Find My Past Newspapers

    Browsing page 5 of Winnipeg Free Press 15 Oct 1918 I note these Flu related items that mostly seem very familiar now:

    All schools and Colleges closed. "Success Business College" advertises that no student will lose money, missed classes will be made up when schools are open again; our strictly sanitary premises when school re-opens.

    Ad reads: Spanish Influenza is travelling westward Disinfectant Spray $5.00 per Gallon.

    Assuming that the prohibition of all meetings for checking the spread of the epidemic did not apply to them striking freight handlers met as usual

    Health Officer reports: As the incubation period of the malady averages 2 or 3 days, although some cases only 24 hours; the malady may in the space of a few hours spread to alarming proportions. Such has been the experience in other cities where precautionary measures have not been adopted.

    All meetings have been cancelled as have classes, theatres, councils

    Mrs Billy Sunday has a temperature of 104 degrees

    Illinois: All theatres, moving picture shows closed

    Small town Brandon, Manitoba has ordered same closings and has set up extra hospital in a rented building for the purpose.

    All this on one page.

    1b: Wikipedia says the Anti Masks won in court

    1. Jon - Do you have a subscription to (For people who don't know, this is a subscription site that's especially strong for UK and Ireland ancestry searches. They have a good newspapers search. (Do you know if they outsource it through another site, or do they have all their own content?)

      Do you recommend a subscription?

    2. Well, I would not get a sub just for newspapers in Canada. There are not a lot. FMP uses the vast resources of the British Newspaper Archive which it owns. But FMP's search is not as good as the BNA. So, a strategy is to do a free search in BNA, then go to FMP (which I have a sub for) and click out the appropriate newspaper article found in the free comprehensive search facility of BNA. With 2 resized windows open side by side its not as complicated as it may sound here.

  4. This is rather timely and perhaps untimely

    M*A*S*H and Covid on YouTube

  5. Two weeks later in the same Winnipeg Free Press paper: some progress being made.

    Serum (vaccine) is now available against the flu. A constable was called in to control an excited crowd wanting to be treated. Every doctor in Manitoba now has the serum.

    There is an alarming shortage of nurses. School nurses and married nurses now brought in.

    Masks ordered to be used on all trains, and visitors to houses where flu exists.

    Liquor stores closed. Apparently some people thought booze to be a good preventative.

    Too many people too lax in isolation measures.

    So far it is not called pandemic but called epidemic.

    1. Interesting word discovery: Is serum the same as vaccine?

      Might be worth trying some searches in late 1919 / 1920 to see what became of that.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. serum vs vaccine: Challenge accepted. First useful source is this:

      Serum is the watery fluid separated out of blood of convalescent people which could and did contain all sorts of stuff. Vaccines were purified cultures of certain bacteria. It was apparantly all useless because the Spanish flu that originated in Kansas was caused they discovered in 1930 by a virus, very much smaller than the bacteria they were experimenting with.

      the vaccine developers had little ability to identify, isolate, and produce all the potential disease-causing strains of bacteria circulating at the time

  6. Same Winnipeg Free Press 3 weeks later 21 Nov 1918

    There seems to be a lessening of victims but authorities not calling victory as the cause may be that doctors are too busy/exhausted to fill out the paperwork.

    The Great War is over thanks to Winnipeggers 1 minute prayers

  7. 1c: Looked up in OED 'pandemic' to see when that word came into use. Its been used for hundreds of years already. I did see in that article this answer to 1c. "1967 Canad. Med. Assoc. Jrnl. 2 Sept. 522/1 The pandemic of 1918 ushered in a period of frequent epidemics of gradually diminishing severity which lasted for 20 years before former levels were again reached."

  8. When searching in old newspapers, I found the search term "Spanish influenza" to be MUCH better than "Spanish flu" -- the number of results for the first query ("influenza") are about 10X those of "flu"!

    1. The disease has lots of names. The ones you mentioned, also have read or heard Swine. And in Spanish have seen gripe and gripa with and without española

    2. Interestingly, in the papers from Australia in 1918-18 and 1919, this episode is referred to as "The Pandemic" or "Pneumonic influenza" as opposed to the Spanish flu, though our national library still acknowledges this term. Even at the time there is conjecture whether the flu originated in Alaska.

      I can't help but see the parallels with the "chinese flu" of 2020.

    3. I forgot to add that most of the reports of the time in Australia referred to it as a bacteria (bacillus) as opposed to a virus.

    4. I think that he most wonderful thing about Australia's TROVE newspaper collection As mentioned by Chris is that it encourages and facilitates correction of OCR results. There must be a million hours of consumers corrections and of tagging.

  9. I spent quite a bit of time also using "British Columbia Historical Newspapers" But I am running out of time, so --
    Here I cheated by using a study from 2007 which gets its predictions all wrong.
    On balance, the apparent impact of the 1918 pandemic on sensitive sectors
    ranges between indiscernible and modest.

    The most striking aspect of the coverage of the economic impact of the pandemic is how little there was. Of the 84 pandemic-related articles published in the Toronto Star between September 23 and October 26 1918, only 9 dealt with economic matters, and most of these provided qualitative reports on absenteeism.

    Not from old papers but relevant as showing no relevancy to today's situation: The short duration of the shocks also limits their impact.
    As Crosby (2003) says:
    …Spanish Influenza moved too fast to produce more than brief paralysis.
    It was a hit-and-run kind of disease, not the kind that places society under
    a long siege, like tuberculosis or malaria. Influenza does not create the
    kind of situation which is bound to get worse and worse unless proper
    actions are taken. (p.115)

  10. I also like the parallel between British Prime Ministers!

  11. Victoria BC Canada which became The Daily Colonist
    Has digitised all issues from 1858 to 1980.

    Christmas 1918 a report on how the local Indians are managing and what is being done to help alleviate "just another curse brought upon them by the sins of the white man."

    Daily Colonist 1919 Jan 5 Victoria is now on top of mild flu wave. The second wave is only about half as severe as the first and children are the principal sufferers

    THe Daily Colonist 1920 feb 8 The influenza has returned. Fewer cases are developing pneumonia. People are careless crowding in dance halls and theatres. Desperately short of ladies to be nurses.

  12. a. How did Canada recover from the economic downturn caused by the Spanish Flu? What articles can you find that tell us what to look for? on Pandemic economics lessons: “Cities that implemented early and extensive non-pharmaceutical interventions (like physical distancing and forbidding large gatherings) suffered no adverse economic effects over the medium term. On the contrary, cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively experienced a relative increase in real economic activity after the pandemic subsided. Altogether, our findings suggest that pandemics can have substantial economic costs, and non-pharmaceutical interventions can lead to both better economic outcomes and lower mortality rates.”

  13. imagine that, a couple Canadian businesses… our G.O. Big Brother… the unintended implications should have been noodled over… too late then & now.
    There are others… many others
    d'fly insta
    big data BlueDot
    on 60 min
    BlueDot Insta… beware Toronto
    The BlueDot algorithm - Wired - searching our patterns, extrapolating — Jan.

  14. This is the best thing yet, for me

    Found by my wife en passant

    There is link here to the project - all articles are in the archive

    British art project with voices speaking newspaper articles from the year 1918

  15. Like Jon, I've been running into some interesting summaries of the Spanish Influenza epidemic. The latest (and extremely interesting) one from this morning is -- a compilation of articles about the flu from 1918/1919. Fascinating reading.

  16. Singing about Influenza

  17. Even Blind Willie Johnson could see what was coming down