Annual Avie Bennett Historica Lecture remembers 20th century's 'forgotten' pandemic

Esyllt Jones, award-winning author and history professor at the University of Manitoba, will deliver this year’s annual Avie Bennett Historica Canada public lecture on March 26.

“Carried Away: Forgetting and Remembering the Great Influenza Pandemic in Canada” will shed new light on the 1918 Influenza pandemic by exploring the experiences of the ordinary people who lived through it. The lecture will take place virtually from 4 to 5 p.m. via Zoom.

Esylit Jones

Esylit Jones

While COVID-19 has generated intense recent interest in the Great Influenza pandemic (1918-20), that event was long referred to as the 20th century’s “forgotten” pandemic. With no “Great Men” to canonize, or moment of victory to celebrate, the influenza pandemic was largely excluded from national histories. Yet for a century its effects lingered in the lives and memories of its survivors.

In this public lecture, Jones will use work by writer Alice Munro to suggest a new interpretation of how pandemic disease survivors remembered their experiences, and how those intimate histories interacted with large-scale social forces and upheavals. By placing the experiences of ordinary men and women in the center of the frame, she will explore not only whether the pandemic was forgotten or remembered, but also by whom, and in what ways.

Jones’ research focuses on the history of health and disease in Canada and the modern world, 20th century health activism and politics, transnational social movements, working class history, and the history of Winnipeg. Her book, Influenza 1918: Death, Disease and Struggle in Winnipeg (University of Toronto Press, 2007), examines the impact of the Great Influenza pandemic on the community of Winnipeg, particularly its role in the eruption of the largest labour confrontation in Canadian history, the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Jones also co-edited a book on the national impact of the pandemic, called Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society, and Culture in Canada, 1918-20 (UBC Press, 2012).

The Avie Bennett Historica Chair was established at York University in 2004 by the Historica Foundation of Canada, endowed by York Chancellor Emeritus Avie Bennett. Its purpose is to promote the study of Canada’s heritage and ensure the academic vitality of the discipline. Each year, an esteemed lecturer is invited to share their research with historians, students, faculty and the public at large.

Register for the lecture here.

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