Amid the flu pandemic of 1918, face masks came to mark the intersection between public policy and personal action. In the burgeoning Covid-19 epidemic a century later, masks are once again central symbols of tensions between collectivism, public health, science denial, and fatal notions of personal freedom in the United States. Drawing on case studies of mediated mask debates in Indiana, Ariel Ludwig, Jessica Brabble, and Tom Ewing trace the effects of contentious mask debates in 1918, demonstrating the importance of consistent enforcement and complementary measures in fighting deadly disease.
Moments of crisis are deeply entwined with their representation through media, which are in turn influenced by their technological, historical, and material conditions. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has many historical precedents, it is arguably unique as a transition point toward fully mediated moments of crisis, with implications spanning politics, social cohesion, entertainment, and even mourning and memorialization. This theme, part of the “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, offers essays that consider what has changed and what has remained constant about the use of media technologies across the history of pandemics. How are forms of connection that are typical during moments of crisis—like public memorializations, information sharing, or mutual moments of comfort or joy—changed or enhanced amid increasingly mediated experiences?
This theme of our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” essay series has been curated by Jason Rhody, program director of the Social Data Initiative, Digital Culture program, and codirector of the Media & Democracy program; Michael Miller, program director for the Just Tech program and codirector of the Media & Democracy program; Sam Spies, program officer and managing editor of MediaWell; and Penelope Weber, SSRC projects coordinator.