A Century of Pandemics: The Spanish Flu, COVID-19, and the Splintering of the Modern Time Regime

Adetobi Moses


Before COVID-19, health crises were treated as antique threats or as ongoing risks for peripheral populations of the world that existed in “premodern” conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, destabilized this understanding of pandemics in the United States. This article examines the New York Times (NYT) coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in its first year to understand how the newspaper engaged with ideas of modernity and temporality—particularly when alluding to the 1918 influenza pandemic within the evolving context of COVID-19. The discussion that emerges from putting these two pandemics in conversation, and from a subsequent qualitative thematic analysis of the contested meanings of health crises in the 21st century, will ultimately trace the ways in which some NYT coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic was doubly concerned with reintegrating the earlier pandemic into collective memory and reckoning with the present-day failures of modernity. The article concludes with a discussion on how the linkages between global health outcomes and modernity can illuminate the processes through which emergent public crises help inscribe new meaning to past crises, specifically within news media.


pandemics, collective memory, modernity, COVID-19, public health, journalism and media

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