Story+ Project

Duke and Durham's Response to the 1918 Influenza and the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemics in Comparative Perspective


Pandemics Story+ Team Final Presentation Powerpoint
Click image to view the team's final presentation

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES 100 YEARS MAKE? Working with Duke’s Story+ program, this project will engage students in learning about pandemics and different approaches to studying them, the history of Duke and of Durham, and qualitative methods. Participants will use a hands-on approach to examine, the University’s and city’s response to each of these pandemics in context, and will thereby contribute to our knowledge of public and policy reactions to pandemics, to Duke and Durham and their shared yet distinct history and nature, as well as developing skills in research design, archival research, qualitative analysis, and case study methodology.

Project Sponsor(s): 

Whitney Welsh, Research Scientist, SSRI

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Sophia Goodfriend, PhD candidate, Cultural Anthropology


Jake Heller, Savita Gupta, Sebin Jeon


We spent six weeks studying Durham's response to the 1918 Spanish flu and the ongoing crisis posed by COVID 19. We mobilized a comparative perspective to better understand what difference 100 years makes--if any--to a city's pandemic preparedness. Archival research--pulling from newspapers, advertisements, letters, and public records--pieced together an encompassing image of  the Spanish flu's impact on the city, despite the inherent limitations of the primary sources we had available from that time. And qualitative research methods and tools allowed us to pull from the proliferation of newspaper articles and tweets regarding COVID-19's continued impact  on Durham. We found fascinating differences in how Durham's residents responded to city closures and quarantine regulations--with residents in 1918 overwhelmingly in support of wide-spread shutdown to curb the virus's spread in contrast to large opposition in 2020. We also found largely similar discrepancies in the risk of exposure access to health care based on race; Durham's Black population, in 1918 and 2020, risks more exposure  to infectious disease while lacking public health infrastructure. It is important to note that today a growing Latinx population is much more likely to contract COVID-19 while oftentimes barred access to essential forms of treatment. Public health policies, 100 years ago and today, continue to fall short of providing all citizens a right, not only to health, but forms of disease prevention, a failure that falls along old stratifications of race and class. Moving forward, the research will expand to encompass Raleigh and Chapel Hill. Broadening its scope to understand the ways the triangle might better learn from the Spanish flu to mitigate the harmful effects of COVID-19 in the Triangle.  

You can view their final powerpoint presentation here!


  • Medicine
  • Archives
  • History
  • Global Health