Counting The Dead: Arizona and the Forgotten Pandemic

“Counting the Dead in the Forgotten Epidemic” is a series of archival projects, multimedia installations, and public events that focus on the 1918 Influenza pandemic. In each of the series, my team and I work to recover a full account of influenza mortalities in a particular locality. We then take that archival work and re-embody the quantitative and qualitative data in a mixed-media installation that encourages people to sit with the dead, to tell their own family stories, and to connect to the geographic and political traces of the people in their own city. This is work that tracks the people represented by epidemiological and archival data and uses new media methods to ethically engage with their histories.

Our first work in this series, “Counting the Dead: Arizona’s Forgotten Epidemic,” created an entirely new influenza data set that indicates that the official count of 519 influenza deaths was off by as much as 1,000 per cent. Once we had completed the archival and data acquisition work, we then transformed the historical record by sonifying (sound) and haptifying (touch) the data. We developed an interactive and spatial installation that included a large historical floor map, the sonification of the data, and suspended braided cords that corresponded to the individuals who had died and their locations. With this piece we encouraged audiences to walk through the state of Arizona and both feel and hear the procession of the deadliest flu on record.

We are proposing a future installation in Houston that will follow the same method: uncovering any new archival information, reconstructing what may have been lost if necessary, and then creating a place-based installation that incorporates sonification of that data as well as haptic features. Our goal is to re-embody the data of the 1918 Influenza in Houston and to encourage our audiences to sit with the dead, to commune and commemorate, and to reflect on the ways that race, gender, ability, and economic status likely played a part in shaping how the city and its inhabitants responded to the deadliest flu.

You can see and read more here:

Counting the Dead is a collaborative project. Project leads are Jacque Wernimont and Elizabeth Grumbach, with contributions from Alison Ross and Nikki Stevens.

Counting the Dead has been supported by the Institute for Humanities Research Medical Humanities Program and the Human Security Collaboratory.