Dolan McGuire and the 1916 Polio Epidemic in NYC

Dolan McGuire, a junior, is a History major who was in Dr. Lezlie Knox’s Black Death class along with Katherine Stein and Cara Caputo. Dolan’s project, “Responses to the 1916 Polio Epidemic in New York City,” examines the spread of the disease and the efforts to contain it. To do so, Dolan used a simple, user-friendly tool: Google Tour Builder. “I’m pretty familiar with Google Earth,” Dolan said, “I’ve been using it since I was 10 or 11 years old. I played with it in school and I like it because it’s user-friendly and easy learning curves.”

Screenshot of the main page of Dolan’s project

Relying on New York City public records, published papers of the city doctors, and references to newspaper articles, Dolan built a map of the city showing the first reported cases of the disease, the location of the NYC health department, quarantined buildings, and the cemeteries. While the digital tool to create the map was easy for Dolan, establishing a clear chronology to map out the instances of the epidemic was not. “Chronology was difficult to establish, cause it all happens at the same time. The newspapers were finding out about the latest outbreak the same time as Bellview and Rockefeller hospitals were.” Having to adapt his idea, Dolan decided to use the map to also highlight the locations that were significant to the epidemic like The New York Times building and Rockefeller University, where doctors were researching polio. This way, the viewers can get a holistic view of epidemic.

Overall, Dolan enjoyed the experience of working with digital media. “It’s such a different way of communicating information, more engaging for people because it’s newer. This isn’t just having someone read something; having a medium that presents information differently enhances the readers’ awareness of the issue since it is easy to tune out when reading a paper.” Such a project, however, does have its difficulties. A problem Dolan faced was distilling the information for the space available: “There were things I wanted to include, but couldn’t.” Digital media usually requires less text; as Dolan said, the medium works to enhance the information. Because of that, the genre requires the creator to be aware of what written information is necessary and what can be conveyed elsewhere.

Next week, we will introduce you to Joe Humer, the Digital Media Specialist.