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The First World War and the 'forgotten' 1916 polio epidemic in New Zealand

A talk by Heather Battles, University of Aukland Wednesday, September 19, 3:30-5:30 LR Wilson Hall 1003 ALL WELCOME

Sep 19, 2018

New Zealand’s 1916 polio epidemic resulted in over 1,000 notified cases and 125 deaths among Pākehā (non-Māori) alone, with an unknown number of cases and deaths among Māori. Despite the proportionately heavy toll of this epidemic, it has been largely forgotten, subsumed in historical and public memory by the upheaval and impact of the Great War. Scholarship on the 1918 influenza pandemic has illuminated how intimately linked that disease was to the War – both biologically and socially. Are similar links to be found in the case of polio in 1916? Quantitative and qualitative analyses of the non-Māori death registrations, contemporary newspapers, and other historical sources reveal little evidence of a direct biological link between wartime conditions and the spread and severity of the disease. Much clearer are the ways in which the epidemic articulated socially and politically with the War. I examine the repercussions of these connections and how they contribute to our understanding of collective forgetting/remembering.