A College Responds to the Spanish ‘Flu Outbreak of 1918-19

Archaeologists – at least the ones in our archives – had a knack for using whatever came to hand for their own purposes. This often leads to the preservation of surprising nuggets of social history wedged in between the archaeological research, photographs and correspondence.

This week, a volunteer working on the lantern slide collection found a piece of postcard re-used as a section divider for maps of Asia in a lantern slide draw. The postcard had been sent to Professor John Myres’ home address on Banbury Road.

box 354001On the other side of the card was a summons to a College meeting to discuss ‘the question of inoculation against influenza’:

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In the autumn and winter of 1918-19, the influenza pandemic had led to unprecedented death rates. One of the cruelest aspects of the so-called ‘Spanish ‘flu’ was that it hit young adults particularly hard. The ‘flu died down through the spring and summer of 1919, but as winter approached, another wave of the ‘flu struck, causing widespread illness, though this time it was to be less deadly (Shanks and Brundy 2012).

There was very little that medicine could offer to counter the devastating effects of the ‘flu, but there were attempts to find and use inoculations against its lethal impact, as this little card testifies.

You would think, given ‘the question of innoculation’ was the purpose of the meeting, the dons of New College would have prioritized the matter, but in fact, as Jennifer Thorp, archivist at New College found out, the meeting on November 15th spent too much time discussing outstanding business from the previous meeting (on the 11th) to get around to ‘the question of inoculation’, which was instead discussed at yet another meeting on the 19th! Finally, at this meeting:

‘It was agreed to provide facilities at the beginning of the ensuing Lent Term for the inoculation of members of the college against influenza. The Junior Bursar was requested to make recommendations to a subsequent meeting as to the provision for nursing within the college in the event of an influenza epidemic’ (New Coll. Archives MIN/W&F 6, p. 295).’

Jennifer’s research in the archives suggests that little further action was taken, since the Junior Bursar was never called upon to present their recommendations at any subsequent meeting, and student numbers indicate that New College wasn’t badly affected by influenza. There were only 30 students in residence in the Autumn of 1918, when the ‘flu was at its most lethal – most of the College’s men and staff were still involved in the war effort. Numbers rocketed to 135 in the next term, as students were able to return to College and resume their studies.

The question still remains, however – what were the students to be inoculated with? An effective treatment for ‘flu wasn’t discovered until 1933.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to New College Archvist Jennifer Thorp for providing information on New College meetings and student numbers.

Bibliography

Killingray, D. and Phillips, H. (2003) The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: New Perspectives Routledge 

Shanks GD, Brundage JF. Pathogenic responses among young adults during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2012 Feb [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid1802.102042

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Repurposing the lantern slide way

One of our volunteers spotted this in one of the Institute’s lantern slide boxes and called it to our attention:

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What was it that attracted his interest? Was it the little round label ‘6054’ which indicated that the slide had originally been one of Sir John Myres’ slides? Was it the beautiful map with incredible detail of ‘Latium and Campania’?

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Here’s Vesuvius and the bay of Naples from the bottom of the map:

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Or was it this?:

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Our volunteer, Robert Petts, is a philatelist and he really knows his stamps. He tells us that this little strip of paper is a re-used edging of a sheet of 1 penny red stamps of Edward VII, printed in 1905. The ‘E’ tells you the part of the year – this sheet of stamps was printed in the first half. The ‘5’ gives you the year. So there you go – it’s amazing what you can learn in the archive when you have great volunteers.

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The Sanger Shepherd Process

We’re making a start on cleaning, digitizing and recording a beautiful cabinet of lantern slides which used to form part of the Ashmolean Lantern Slide Lending Library. It’s a big job, and one we couldn’t do without the help of our new student volunteers – Bridget, Amy, Alice and Ed.

Almost as soon as he had started cleaning a set of slides, Ed came across this and drew it to our attention:

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It’s a colour image of a fresco from the famous Bronze Age site at Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 onwards. Colour images are a rarity in our lantern slide collection, not least because it was difficult and expensive to achieve a colour image before the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935. It is probable that the wealthy Evans was responsible for commissioning this expensive image. The colour slide was created using the Sanger Shepherd method. Red, yellow and blue filters were used and the results amalgamated to create the final colour. Sanger Shepherd and Company Ltd were active from 1900 to 1927, so Evans was using cutting-edge technology.

The next slide in the slide box shows some of the processes for creating the right mix of colours, with an outline drawing of the same fresco indicating how the colour filters should be set – an interesting find for historians of photography:

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The image itself, known as ‘The Captain of the Blacks’, is highly contentious. When Sir Arthur Evans began excavations at Knossos he was heavily influenced by his reading of Classical authors in his interpretation of the site and its frescoes. When he came across this fresco, it was damaged. The lead runner has survived, but only the legs of two following runners and a tiny part of the back of the head of the second runner were visible. This was enough for Evans to construct a narrative of African enlistment in Minoan armies, as he argued in his publication of the site (Evans 1926, p756).

We’ve found a dozen more Sanger Shepherd colour images in this box. Who knows what we will find as we keep going through the collection?

 

Evans, A. 1926. The palace of Minos : a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos vol II (London, Macmillan)

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35mm slide project

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Like many teaching institutions, we have a huge 35mm teaching slide collection. It was once in constant use, but now 35mm slides are a redundant technology, and questions have to be asked about whether the collection is worth the space it occupies.

We are not alone in asking this question: there is a lively debate about the issue across museums, libraries, art galleries and universities.

Most of the guidelines on slide libraries seem to start with the assumption the problem is one of how to identify which slides to dispose of. The Guidelines for the Evaluation, Retention, and Deaccessioning of 35mm Slide Collections in Educational and Cultural Institutions, prepared by the Visual Resources Association’s Slide and Transitional Media Task Force, September 2014 begins with: ‘Our purpose here is to raise awareness of the issues associated with reducing the size of a 35mm teaching collection, and to provide general guidelines for evaluating and weeding.’

Reading through the VRA guidelines and its appendix of institutional guidelines, there is a consensus that ‘weeds’ are duplicates, images taken from books, and slides that are damaged, mouldy, out-of-focus, fading or otherwise imperfect, unless they are originals. However, the work of identifying ‘originals’ in a massive slide collection is no simple task, especially where there is no source data – a common issue with teaching slide collections, and certainly one we face. Weeding is an interesting word. Weeds are unwelcome intrusive plants in a garden that take up space and choke desirable plants. Does taking out unwanted slides make a collection more accessible and more likely to be used?

The answer depends on what teaching slide collections are, and why they are worth retaining. We are developing new research directions through an archaeological approach which identifies the Institute’s teaching slide collection as an assemblage: “a group of artifacts recurring together at a particular time and place, and representing the sum of human activities” (Renfrew and Bahn, 2008, 578).

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Thinking about the collection as an assemblage has raised new questions about purpose, function, research value and relevance, while setting the idea of ‘weeding’ to one side. Assemblages have interest because of their component parts – to take some of these parts out, or to assign different values based on current cultural perceptions is to distort the assemblage and compromise its archaeological integrity.

While we’re writing about these issues and setting up a 35mm slide digitisation project, we’re looking at what has happened to comparable 35mm collections. This one from the Visual Resources Centre at Manchester Art School particularly caught our eye. Worried that their collection was at threat of disposal, ‘Pick-a-slide’ began as a student-led collaboration. People are invited to browse the images, pick one, and write a short response about it. It is a fascinating project, and the good news is that the entire archive has been transferred to the University Special Collections.

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Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. (2008) Archaeology: Theories,  Methods, and Practice London: Thames and Hudson

 

 

 

 

 

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Photography vs Art

HEIR: Historic Environment Image Resource

I came across this in the Bodleian Library today:

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It is ‘Welch’s Album of Portsmouth and Southsea Views’, printed in Germany, and sold by R. and W. Welch, booksellers, of the Arcade, Landport.

Inside, there is a concertina of images, including this one of Southsea castle

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And this view of The Govenor’s House – the building was a casualty of bombing during WWII:

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What’s odd about these images is that they are not photographs, but drawings OF photographs, and at quite a late date, too – the images post-date the building of the Town Hall (1890), but pre-date the breaking up of HMS Euphrates in 1895:

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Why create a drawing instead of reproducing the photograph? One answer may be that the images were being modified, perhaps to make them more ‘artistic’. Compare, for example, the drawing on the left of the Floating Bridge with the original on the right:

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The…

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The Story Behind the Picture: Karakoram 1936

Source: The Story Behind the Picture: Karakoram 1936

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Dating our Stonehenge Images

Source: Dating our Stonehenge Images

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