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New exhibition seeks to connect WWI’s “staggering losses” with modern medicine 

By Parker Schorr
via the University of Wisconsin-Madison web site

Drawing on Ebling Library’s vast collection of health sciences materials, including early 20th century nursing journals and medical books, as well as UW’s archives, a new exhibition seeks to tell the story of WWI, its impact on modern medicine, and the forgotten people who fought in it. “Staggering Losses: World War 1 & the Influenza Pandemic of 1918” officially opens Thursday, February 7 and runs through May. We talked with Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, a librarian at Ebling who curated the exhibition, about what she learned and why people should still care about WWI.

What inspired you to put together this exhibition?

Micaela Sullivan FowlerMicaela Sullivan-FowlerPart of it was the embarrassment of being one of the few health sciences libraries in the WORLD that had not yet done an exhibition to celebrate the Centennial of WW1 (1914-1918). I got the bulk of the exhibition done in December, coming just under the 1918 wire. Also, the Ebling Library has notable collections from that era, especially in its early 20th century clinical and nursing journals and its books on military medicine, and I wanted to highlight those collections. We also have a remarkable WW1 stamp and postcard collection from donors Gerald Estes and Annette Yonke that complements the other material.

Personally, I had two scenarios stuck in my head from that era. I heard one over 30 years ago from historian Lester King, M.D., who was 10 when the 1918 influenza epidemic hit Boston. He told me that as a young boy he and his friends stepped over and played near corpses piled on the sidewalks because the death toll was so swift and appreciable that there were not enough coffins or grave sites to handle the mounting body count. And then my husband, whose British grandfather had been through WW1 and been mustard gassed, had made it home but “was never quite right.” Other than History Channel fare and some reading knowledge of the pandemic, as a historian mainly familiar with the 17th century, the Civil War, and late 20th century, I actually knew (it turns out) very little about WW1. I came up with the title, at the very beginning – Staggering Losses: World War 1 & the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 – essentially hoping to make some sense of the tens of millions that died or were wounded in the War and the tens of millions who sickened or died in the pandemic.

What were the most interesting things you learned in the process of putting the exhibition together?

That it is, perhaps, one of the most crucial world events that ever happened, that it continues to have lessons for the modern world, and that the losses were not simply in the lives, limbs, animals, creative or intellectual opportunities and relationships to those that died, but also in the lost opportunities for improved race relations, peaceful agreements and women’s inclusion in the body politic following the war.

Read the entire article on the University of Wisconsin-Madison web site here:

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