At this spring’s annual meeting of the Ohio Academy of Medical History (OAMH), five Case Western Reserve undergraduates presented original research about the Lakeside Unit, a corps of civilian staff members from Cleveland’s Lakeside Hospital who helped provide medical care to British and American soldiers in France during World War I.
The students—Andrew Breland, Steven Cramer, Samuel Esterman, Zach Hijazi and Kristi Ngo—became interested in the Lakeside Unit while taking an undergraduate seminar, The War, in spring 2012. The course was offered through SAGES (the Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) and taught by SAGES Fellow Amy Absher, a full-time lecturer in the Department of History.
In researching their papers for the seminar, the students delved into the Lakeside Unit manuscript and photography collection housed in the Dittrick Medical History Center on the Case Western Reserve campus.
As the impetus for their projects, Absher gave each of the students a photograph from the Dittrick Museum of Medical History’s archive and asked them to contextualize it. Who were the people in these photographs, and what were their circumstances?
“In some cases, it was easy from a glance to understand what was going on in the image,” said James Edmonson, the museum’s chief curator. “Others required some pretty dogged research. Any given item can be subject to multiple interpretations.”
At the OAMH meeting, Edmonson said, the undergraduates “talked quite movingly about the photos and about their research process. Each of the students did a stellar job.”
Esterman, an English and political science major, argued that the nurses in the hospital unit were involved in feminist activism. Cramer, a cognitive science and economics major, explained how he conducted research using the collection and how he was able to identify unknown soldiers and nurses. Hijazi, a mechanical engineering major, traced the unit’s efforts to save the life of a single soldier who appeared in one of the photographs. Ngo, a cognitive science major, elucidated the limits of the medical revolution of World War I by exploring shell shock. Breland, an English and political science major, argued that the term “Lost Generation,” usually applied to soldiers who fought in the war, more truly applies to the children who were orphaned by it. Their plight, he insisted, constitutes the greatest tragedy of World War I.
Absher and Edmonson have frequently collaborated to create research opportunities for students in her seminars. This latest project also gave undergraduates the chance to give public presentations of their work—a skill emphasized in the SAGES curriculum. The entire experience, Absher said, “is an excellent demonstration of the many ways that the Dittrick supports SAGES courses and students.”