|Handling a Desperate Situation: The Impact of the Spanish Flu on Families in Northern Sweden|
|The Spanish flu is a common theme in recorded interviews where individuals from Northern Sweden relate autobiographical stories from the first decades of the 20th century. The experience of the Spanish flu made profound impressions in people’s minds, no matter if they themselves were taken ill or not. To a great extent the narratives about the pandemic are testimonies about the hardship of life, and about the uncertainty that followed in the footsteps of the influenza. But they are also a source for gaining knowledge about social conditions during the flu and long-term psychological effects of the pandemic.
The aim of this paper is to investigate the impact of the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-20) on families in Northern Sweden, and how people made sense of their experiences of the flu. The material consists of recorded interviews collected by the Department of Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Umeå (DAUM).
The investigation of the narratives about the flu enables us to understand the long-term impact of the pandemic on the lives and self perception of the informants, and will thereby shed light upon disease and medicine in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Thus, the main theme of the paper is the social construction of disease. What the informants remember is of course heavily influenced by other people’s experiences of the past, as well as through talking about the past. Certainly there are a number of facts that might have altered the informants’ memories. However, this is not a problem in this case. What this paper aims at, is not any kind of “objective” description of living conditions during the Spanish flu, but subjective descriptions of the impact that the Spanish flu had on the informants’ personal lives.
This paper adds to the current body of qualitative studies on the 1918-20 influenza pandemic by linking individual experiences of the remembered past to the current knowledge of the long-term social and psychological consequences of the pandemic.