Undergraduate Honors Student Thesis Spotlight: Renee Semple

Abstract Image for Renee SempleA timely thesis from UConn grad ’21 Renee Semple who explored how narrative shapes public response and cultural memory. In examining the narratives crafted around the 1918 and 1957 influenza pandemics, Semple details the danger of historical erasure in the elevation of certain narratives over others. A job well done!

Renee Semple, “Preferred Narratives and Their Impact on Historical Memory: An Examination Through Comparison of Twentieth Century Pandemics”
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Shirley Roe

Societal response to a crisis and the narratives that emerge from the event(s) often vary and oppose one another. A narrative can be considered a point of view or a lens that is often cultivated through experiences and carries its own tone while telling events. This thesis compares the narratives that emerged from both the 1918 and 1957 influenza pandemics. Examining the 1918 influenza pandemic reveals both a public and a private narrative, in which the public narrative is the preferred out of the two. Filled with optimism, the preferred public narrative focused on moving forward and furthering scientific research—a modernist view that overshadowed the private narrative. This pattern is discovered in the influenza pandemic of 1957; the two narratives emerge, with the public one as the preferred narrative. By comparing these two pandemics within fifty years of one another, it is clear that a pattern of societal response and preferred narratives emerges out of these public health crises. The narratives created during the pandemics persisted afterwards by influencing the cultural memory and perpetuating instances of historical erasure.