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Working with the Sources:The American Women’s Hospitals in the Near East

 From the collections  Comments Off on Working with the Sources:The American Women’s Hospitals in the Near East
Sep 032014
 

The American Women’s Hospitals (AWH) was started in 1917 to provide, register and finance American women physicians for war work; to offer medical and emergency relief to refugees; and, later, to provide international public health service. The following is an excerpt from Virginia Metaxas’s article on the AWH use of field information to publicize and raise funds for their ongoing work. The full article can be found here.


by Virginia Metaxas, Ph.D., Professor of History and Women’s Studies, Southern Connecticut State University Legacy Center 2010 M. Louise Carpenter Gloeckner Fellow

Refugee camp on the island of Macronissi, circa 1922

The largest American Women’s Hospitals projects in the 1920s and 1930s were in Greece, where long term medical aid was desperately needed, due to the devastation left by the First World, Balkan, and Greco-Turkish Wars.  To meet the vast needs for medical relief, President Esther Pohl Lovejoy found that she had to spend much of her time fundraising.  As early as 1919, she realized that she needed to capitalize on human interest stories as well as factual material in order to procure private and public support of the AWH projects.  In a letter written to Dr. Ruth A. Parmelee, a physician and medical missionary working in Harpoot [now Harput] Turkey, Dr. Lovejoy succinctly said:

We are very much interested in the work you are doing and we should greatly appreciate a more complete description of the cases you are meeting.  I observe that your total number of treatments for the month of August was something over three thousand.  It is very helpful in this office to have letters descriptive of conditions that are of human interest.   In other words, stories of suffering and heroism such as will help us in our effort to secure funds to continue this work. 1

Dr. Parmelee, who served in Greece for three decades in various capacities under the auspices of the AWH, took Dr. Lovejoy’s advice to heart.  She became, in a very real way, an impassioned advocate for the continued support of the Christian Greeks and Armenians she worked among both in Turkey and in Greece.  Without exaggeration, Parmelee was one of the most articulate reporters of conditions witnessed by AWH staff abroad.  Having grown up in Turkey, the daughter of missionary parents, and a fluent speaker of many of the Near Eastern languages (Armenian, Greek, Turkish), she may have had a particularly empathetic feeling for the people with whom she worked. Through her four decades of work in Turkey and Greece, she sent a constant stream of information from the field to the AWH office in New York, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Boston, other professional medical women’s organizations, and to the general public in the form of medical reports, professional and newspaper articles, books, private and public letters, speeches, lectures, and more.  Dr. Lovejoy was supreme at this sort of activity, publishing three major books and hundreds of professional and lay articles, giving speeches and lectures, and participating in other promotional activities too numerous to count.   She required all of the AWH physicians working in the field to send statistical data as well as ‘stories’ for use in publicity materials used for fundraising.  These abundant and varied materials, many of which are located in the Records of the American Women’s Hospitals, are a windfall to historians seeking documentation of the work of the AWH.  It is also the task of the historian to identify biases in sources and to situate their significance in a larger context.

Dr. Ruth Parmelee and nurse. Salonica, Greece, 1922.

Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, 1918.

Lovejoy’s and Parmelee’s work in reporting what they saw and heard, and their calls for support and action, built upon a tradition set in motion earlier by secular and missionary Americans who had served in various Near Eastern locations.  In the context of rising nationalisms in the region, Americans had witnessed many years of conflict between the Muslim Turks, who they often characterized as feared,  despised, and uncivilized “Mohammedans,” and Greeks and Armenians, who they characterized as “Christian martyrs,” especially in the context of resistance to Ottoman rule.  Indeed, late nineteenth and early twentieth century reports from American missionaries and diplomats had resulted in widespread public awareness of the plight of Armenians and Greeks in the waning final years of the Ottoman Empire.  Many grassroots organizations, both religious and secular, conducted massive public fundraising campaigns so that American citizens knew of and contributed to saving the thousands of “starving Armenians” displaced by the conflict in the area.2  The Greek genocide and forced population exchange of 1922 became part of the American consciousness through the efforts of American witnesses who sought to form public attitudes and possibly achieve humanitarian intervention. These unprecedented international human rights campaigns helped shape America’s national and international identity.  3  AWH fundraising efforts shrewdly adopted these familiar tropes as a means of obtaining the funds to provide medical relief.  They joined the chorus of voices speaking against the growing evidence of ‘Turkification’ perpetrated by the Kemalist government, policies that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Christian populations in the region. Read the full article.


  1. Italics mine.  Letter to Dr. Ruth A. Parmelee from Chairman EL (Esther Pohl Lovejoy), November 26, 1919, Records of the American Women’s Hospitals, Acc. 144, Box 9, Folder 73.  The Records of the American Women’s Hospitals are located at Drexel University College of Medicine, The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections, Philadelphia, PA 19129.  Thanks to the generosity of the M. Louise Carpenter Gloeckner, M.D. Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to spend several weeks at the archives during the summer of 2010.  I am very grateful to have received this support and for all the wonderful help of the staff there, including Joanne Murray, Director, Margaret Graham, Digital Resources Archivist, Lisa Grimm, Assistant Archivist, (who left shortly after I arrived) and Karen Ernst, Administrative Assistant.  Their expertise and welcoming ways made my stay there very productive and joyful. 

  2. A recent treatment of the Armenian genocide and the response by the American public and government can be found in: Peter Balakian, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).  

  3. See Barbara Reeves-Ellington’s dissertation “That our daughters may be as corner stones: American missionaries, Bulgarian nationalists, and the politics of gender” (Graduate School of Binghamton University State University of New York, 2001) for a critical study of the role of American women missionaries in shaping U.S. ambitions for empire during the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire. 

 Posted by on September 3, 2014

Guest post from intern Tracy Ulmer

 Archival procedures, From the collections, Happenings  Comments Off on Guest post from intern Tracy Ulmer
Jan 302014
 

 by intern Claire (Tracy) Ulmer
This article is also posted on the HCI-PSAR blog. 

This fall I processed two collections as part of the HCI-PSAR Internship Pilot Program, facilitated by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). As part of this project I received guidance and supervision from professional archivists at the Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections where I processed the Jessie Laird Brodie, M.D. papers and at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, where I processed the Philadelphia Canoe Club records.

The end goal of this internship pilot program was to make better known and more accessible the hidden archival collections held at the numerous small repositories throughout the five-county Philadelphia area (as well as to work out any kinks in the program!). While I certainly aided in this end goal, it was not the end goal I had for myself.

Other than an assignment for an archival studies class at Drexel University where I processed a collection of just 50 pages, I had no experience in processing archival collections. Sure, I had all the theory, knew all the lingo… but processing a comparatively small-scale class assignment and an actual collection are two very different things! This internship was a chance for me to merge my knowledge with experience.

I first processed the personal papers of Jessie Laird Brodie, M.D. and then the organizational papers of the Philadelphia Canoe Club. Over the months I learned first-hand what I recall discussing in all of my archival studies classes: what one wants to accomplish following archival theory is very different from what one might be capable of accomplishing given situational circumstances! It is theory versus reality, and it can be as frustrating as all get out.

Jessie Laird Brodie, MD collection before processing

Time, of course, is always a limiting factor, and my biggest challenge as I felt the pinch while processing both collections, particularly when I had to remind myself that I did not have time for minutia. Time versus thoroughness became my internal mantra. This factor inevitably led to compromise between the ideal and reality. For example, for the Jessie Laird Brodie, M.D. papers I was not able to organize or describe the 800 some odd 35 mm slides beyond, “The slides appear to be of Brodie’s travels outside the United States and are generally labeled with the country shown in the slides, but do not always have a date.” While frustrating, I had to accept that this area of the collection was simply not going to receive as much attention in terms of physical or intellectual arrangement.

Limiting how much attention I could give the two collections was a particular difficulty for me. The desire to get into every nook and cranny, figuratively speaking, was immense. As someone looking to enter the archival profession, where such detailed work is generally not possible due to time constraints, funding, and backlogs, pulling back from the minute was something I had to remind myself of every day I worked on the collections. Certainly starting with a collection of personal papers this was more difficult, but working on an organizational collection at the Chestnut Hill Historical Society was comparatively much easier. Folder labels were typically obvious and straightforward; for the most part I did not have to spend time double-checking that the contents of a folder were what the folder title purported them to be.

Jessie Laird Brodie, MD collection after processing

After working with two types of archival collections, there were two key principles I have since taken in mind: there are numerous ways to process any given collection; time and experience will help me to ferret out the best way to process various types of collections in the shortest amount of time possible. Also: always double check to make sure you pull all of the boxes belonging to one collection so you do not end up with a surprise box at the end when you go to put the collection away!

 Posted by on January 30, 2014

Internship Experience

 Education and outreach, From the collections  Comments Off on Internship Experience
Jun 202013
 

by N. Robinson and T. Witherspoon, interns from Mastery High School

Mastery Interns with amputation kit

At Mastery Charter school all 10th graders have to complete a 16-week internship. Our internship coordinator set up three interviews for us to go on and Drexel was one of them. The interview went well for both of us and Drexel became our top placement choice.  In February we were told that we were placed at Drexel University College of Medicine for our internship site for the rest of the school year.

The time gap between the interview and being notified of our placement was very long and we forgot what our goal was. When we came to Drexel the first day of the internship we didn’t know what to expect. But when we arrived we were told that we would be working in the archives department and would soon be interviewing medical students as well as faculty members during the course of this internship.

As the weeks progressed we focused on our main project, which was to create a Google map of all the community service sites from 1996-2002. Through this project we learned new computer skills. (See the project map below.)

Mastery interns with interviewee Mary Ellen Bradley

Despite all of our computer work we began to branch out of the office and start our interviews. We interviewed Mary Ellen Bradley and Dr. Zarro first; the objective of these interviews was to learn about the history of community service at Drexel University College of Medicine. From these interviews we learned that community service wasn’t always a part of the curriculum.  We also received insight on the first community service projects that we set up. Weeks later we interviewed two medical students, Blake Bowden and Lola Adekunle, who are currently enrolled at Drexel University College of Medicine. The students gave us advice about our future careers as doctors by telling us the college courses they were required to take audio clip.

Mastery Interns with 19th century box of bones

Overall, this internship was a learning experience. We came into this not knowing what to expect but now we are leaving with new skills that we have acquired over these past week that can be applied later in life. For instance, we learned new computer skills, and added to our communication skills all because of this internship. We also found out information involving college that will be applied later in life. Before this experience we viewed an internship as something that had little to no meaning, but all of the things that we are leaving with proves that it actually has some significance.

 

Drexel University College of Medicine Community Service Map 1996 – 2002
(work-in-progress)

View Drexel College of Medicine Community Service Map in a larger map

 Posted by on June 20, 2013

Mary Walker Part II

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Mar 042013
 

part II, also from our industrious work study med student and guest blogger Annalyn Gibson

We are back again to finish up our thoughts on Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, picking up where the previous post left off.

Mary Walker's medals

These medals were received by Dr. Mary Walker, ca. 1865

As if the accomplishments mentioned previously were not impressive enough for someone in Dr. Walker’s position (attending and graduating medical school as a woman, founding a Relief Association, serving as a contract surgeon for the Union Army), Dr. Mary Walker was the first woman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for her work during the Civil War. She was the only woman to receive the award throughout the Civil War and would wear it often, as she was (understandably) very proud of it.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker in Washington, 1910

Unfortunately for Dr. Walker the medal was revoked in 1917 after a reappraisal of the terms that defined eligibility for the award. Other names besides hers were removed at this time as well. Dr. Walker refused to surrender the award however and wore it for the rest of her life. Happily, in 1977 the award was restored.

After her work in the Civil War, in 1867, Dr. Walker lived with Belva Lockwood for a few years in Washington DC. Ms. Lockwood was a fellow women’s suffrage activist and at this time Dr. Walker began to get more and more politically involved. She had long worn the “bloomer costume”, and eventually moved on to dressing in regular men’s clothing.

Mary Walker elegantly dressed

Dr. Mary Walker elegantly dressed and unidentified man, 1910

In 1866 Dr. Walker was elected to be the president of the National Dress Reform Association, and honestly a better person could not have served. Dr. Walker felt so strongly about the right to wear pants and men’s clothing that she was arrested multiple times for impersonating a man. Many times, she would argue that Congress had granted her a special permission that allowed her to dress as a man but no documentation of the claim can be found.

Unfortunately, Dr. Walker became too eccentric for other women’s suffrage activists and separated from the movement. Dr. Walker held very progressive opinions on marriage and divorce, was tolerant regarding religion, and was also against alcohol and tobacco use (fitting for a physician now isn’t it?).  the issue that seemed to have finally severed her from the suffrage movement was that Dr. Walker believed that the Constitution already granted women the right to vote and felt that an Amendment was unnecessary.

On a side note, if you are at all interested, Dr. Walker published two texts: a partly autobiographical book Hit was published in 1871 and another book titled Unmasked, or the Science of Immortality was published in 1878.

In 1890 Dr. Mary Walker moved again and spent her remaining life in Oswego, where she was most remembered  for her dress and mannerisms. When Dr. Walker passed she was buried, fittingly, in a black suit in her family plot.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker, 1912

 Posted by on March 4, 2013

Mary Edwards Walker, Part I

 From the collections  Comments Off on Mary Edwards Walker, Part I
Jan 282013
 

from our industrious work study student, med student and guest blogger Annalyn Gibson

If there is something that is never surprising to run into in the archives here, it is the story of yet another amazing woman overcoming adversity and accomplishing wonderful things. In looking through our digital collection to select particularly moving images for a project, I came across one story that really caught my attention.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker, 1890

We have previously met Mary Edwards Walker briefly in another post, but upon further research, she does not cease to amaze and really deserves a more in-depth look into her life.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker in England, ca. 1866-67

It should be known that Ms. Walker was going to be something different simply by the family that she was born into. She was born on a farm in the small town of Oswego in upstate New York. She was the fifth daughter in her family and from the start her parents believed that all of their children, including their five daughters, deserved to receive a professional education.

Ms. Walker was born in 1832. I don’t know about you but when thinking about jobs that women held at that time, the profession of physician does not come to my mind. Apparently she felt the same way in her early life as she became a schoolteacher, just as her sisters before her did. Now that’s a respectable position for a woman to hold in the mid 1800s, was Mary Walker satisfied though? No. No she wasn’t.

In 1855 Dr. Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical School, which, like most other medical schools of that time, did not commonly admit women.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker, 1887

Now, being a first year medical student myself, I find studying medicine to be extremely difficult currently; go backwards about a century and a half and things only get more complicated. I can’t even fathom the struggle that Ms. Walker had to go through to not only attend but also graduate a medical school in the mid 1800s that so rarely accepted women. Let’s just take a second to appreciate that.

After graduation Dr. Walker practiced briefly in Ohio before marrying another physician and opening a practice with him in Rome, NY. That unfortunately was short-lived as she accused her husband of infidelity and they separated while she ran the small practice on her own for a short period of time.

Mary Walker

Dr. Mary Walker, 1900

After Rome, Dr. Walker spent a year in Iowa, where she tried, and failed, to get a divorce. During this time she attended the Bowen Collegiate Institute and was later expelled for reasons that we can only speculate about.

When the Civil War began, Dr. Walker travelled to Washington, where she volunteered as a Union nurse in a temporary hospital. It was here that she helped to found the Women’s Relief Association. In 1862, Dr. Walker ventured to Virginia to care for the wounded and a year after was briefly appointed in Tennessee as a surgeon in an Ohio Regiment. After her dismissal from the position she continued to wear her officer uniform and ministered to southern families along the countryside. During this time period it was thought by the Confederate Army that she was acting as a spy for the Union side and she was captured as a prisoner of war for several months during the summer of 1864. After her return to the Union side through an exchange, Dr. Walker was finally contracted as an acting assistant surgeon for the Ohio 52nd Infantry.

All of this is only half of the story. Dr. Walker has accomplished so much that just one post does not do her justice. Hang tight for the rest of the story soon!

 Posted by on January 28, 2013

Playing with the Past: A Digital History Toolkit

 Digital history, Happenings  Comments Off on Playing with the Past: A Digital History Toolkit
Sep 172012
 

The Legacy Center was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Heritage Philadelphia Program (HPP) of The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage to develop Playing with the Past: A Digital History Toolkit, a web resource that will make the our rich online Women in Medicine collection easily accessible to a new audience of high school students.

Typically, the only members of the public to interact with these materials are our researchers.  By creating a new way to access and interpret these primary sources, we hope to inspire high school students – and others – to enjoy history and encourage them to use historical documents to learn about the past.

While our project was in the planning stages, we found that high school students care deeply about gender inequality and social justice.  Using two of our ‘story’ ideas, these students read newspaper clippings, letters, and diary entries to delve into the lives of some of our early women physicians.  Approaching historical topics through the lens of individual women’s experience provides, in the words of one student, “a way in,” to history for students who are unmoved by traditional history curricula.  It provides a way for students to learn and understand that history is not just straight facts; history is people, and can be told from many differing viewpoints.

             

 

 

 

 

For those of you not familiar with us or our collections, our repository holds not only the records for Drexel University College of Medicine, but its predecessor institutions as well, including Hahnemann Medical College and Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.  Woman’s Med was the first medical school for women in the United States, and was founded in 1850 in Philadelphia.  With such a rich history, much of our materials are related to these early pioneering women doctors and the obstacles they overcame.

Our collections give substance and meaning to what students are facing today, while encouraging historically informed civic engagement and inspiring young people, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and medicine.  With Playing with the Past, we hope to teach students not only how to work with primary sources, but to love history as well.

More information about the grant can be found at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the Pew 2012 Grantee Press Release.

 Posted by on September 17, 2012

Request for Proposals: Anniversary Project (oral histories and calendar)

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Apr 092012
 

Staff of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership

The Legacy Center is seeking proposals for an anniversary project for the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine. The project will result in oral histories and a printed calendar reflecting the Institute’s 20-year history.

The Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership initiates, sponsors, administers and coordinates a wide range of programs to advance women’s health and women’s leadership. With the overall theme, “Making a World of Difference,” the Institute pursues its mission to “honor the past, enrich the present and create the future.”  It will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2013.  Additional details about the Institute can be found in the RFP (PDF) and on their website.

On behalf of the Institute, the Legacy Center is producing the oral histories and calendar. The projects’ research and production will result in video recordings and the calendar illustrating the Institute’s origins and growth. The Legacy Center is seeking services to produce the anniversary project, including research, organizing and conducting oral history interviews and writing and designing the printed calendar. The RFP process will identify qualified candidates for the project.

The full RFP is posted here: http://bit.ly/ducomlcrfp2012apr (PDF). The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2012.

Additional background documents:

IWHL 2011 Annual Report
IWHL 1997 Annual Report
History of the Drexel University College of Medicine (brief)

 Posted by on April 9, 2012

Mary B. Dratman papers

 From the collections  Comments Off on Mary B. Dratman papers
Feb 072012
 
Dr. Dratman (far right) in the endocrinology lab at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1951.

The Legacy Center recently received a second donation of papers from Dr. Mary Bagan Dratman, adding to the bulk of her papers that were transferred to the Legacy Center in late 2010. Dr. Dratman graduated from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1945 and has conducted extensive research in endocrinology, specifically concerning the T3 and T4 thyroid hormones. She is widely published and taught at both Woman’s Med and the University of Pennsylvania. We’re looking forward to conducting an oral history with Dr. Dratman in the spring.

We’re working on a preliminary inventory of the Dratman papers that will be available soon.

Moving Dr. Dratman’s papers from the basement of her home in Mt. Airy, 2010.

19th century homeopathic medicine journal now online

 From the collections  Comments Off on 19th century homeopathic medicine journal now online
Jul 202011
 

We have quietly posted new digital material reflecting the early history of homeopathic medicine in the United States, The Correspondenzblatt der Homoeopatischen Aerzte (Correspondence Paper of Homeopathic Physicians).

As noted in a previous post, the Correspondenzblatt is from the Hahnemann Collection. Published in 1836, it was the first homeopathic journal published in the United States, created by and for homeopathic practitioners who submitted case notes, observations and questions about their patients. Constantine Hering (pictured), one of the founders of the Academy and considered to be the “father of American Homeopathy”, served as the journal’s editor.

The issues are short but dense, and packed with detailed case studies on ailments being treated homeopathically. In aggregate, they illustrate the holistic approach used by homeopaths in treating minor and major illnesses, from toothaches to measles. More than a few of the case studies detail the use of homeopathy to treat animals, including pigs, horses and cows. Some descriptions are graphic and should be avoided by the faint of heart.

The original publication is mostly in German with a few entries in English. We’ve had the entire run translated to English which we’ll post along with the digital facsimiles of the paper.

There are still glitches in the system that we are working out, as we also work on upgrading and updating our digital collection management system. Comments appreciated!

http://xdl.drexelmed.edu/corrblatt.php

 Posted by on July 20, 2011
May 092011
 

How do high school students feel about history?  We visited Constitution High School in Center City, Philadelphia, just a few weeks ago to find out.  We were pleasantly surprised how involved the students were.  We divided each session (of which there were four) into three parts: two “history detective”-type activities using primary sources and a discussion period that included a brief questionnaire asking them to evaluate the experience.  The first activity we had the students do was compare and contrast the careers of Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans.

Eliza Grier was an emancipated slave who graduated from WMCP in 1897. She supported herself through college by picking cotton and received some financial assistance to attend WMCP. After her training, Grier practiced medicine in an impoverished area of South Carolina for a short time before her death in 1901.

 

Matilda Evans (d. 1935) graduated from WMCP in 1897. She practiced medicine in Columbia, South Carolina where Dr. Evans founded several institutions for black medical professionals and patients including two hospitals and a nursing school.

 

We verbally presented basic contextual/background information about Woman’s Medical College and  then distributed a set of documents (2 letters and 2 photographs) to each student that provided clues to the lives of Eliza Grier and Matilda Evans, two African American women who both graduated from Woman’s Med in 1897, but whose career paths diverged greatly.

Students were then given a worksheet with the contextual information and one question/prompt to think about in preparation for discussion: “After they both graduated medical school in 1897, did Eliza Grier and Matilda each become a successful doctor?”

After the students had time to read through everything, we began the discussion by asking them what they knew about each woman from the sources provided; what they couldn’t determine but  wanted to know; and then asked them to compare and contrast the two women’s careers based on the evidence. We recorded their responses on the white board and collected their worksheets if they were filled in.

 

Though they enjoyed the process of piecing the stories together, the students also expressed the desire for more background information about Grier and Evans, and often cited these gaps in their stories as the most frustrating thing about the activity.  They had many questions and wanted to know Grier’s and Evans’s whole stories, what their backgrounds and childhoods were like, if they knew each other, what happened to them after they wrote their letters, etc.

The reactions to the Grier and Evans stories confirmed our thinking that students will be interested in these types of personal, biographical stories, accompanied by photographs that further aid in identifying with the “characters.”  We expected, and it was borne out, that the students’ verbal answers to some of the prompts during the discussions would differ from their original written answers because they would pick up more and more info from listening to each other during the discussion.

In Session 1 ( 9th &10th graders), the students’ written answers to the worksheet question, After they both graduated medical school in 1897, did Eliza Grier and Matilda each become successful doctors?  were mostly “yes,” though the evidence showed, as the students acknowledged in the discussion, that Grier and Evans had very different levels of success.  They answered the written question as if we had asked if they became doctors at all, not if they became successful doctors.  But when we asked them to put her story together from the evidence in the discussion portion, they came to a more nuanced (and more accurate) conclusion about the differences between the two women’s situations.

When we told the students and how much we emphasized the fact that Eliza Grier was born a slave seemed to affect their level of empathy for and understanding of her situation.  We told the Session 1 students in fairly deliberate way early on in the discussion; we told the Session 2 students almost as an afterthought once their discussion was well underway and that had formed their opinions and conclusions. By that time the Session 2 students were markedly less sympathetic to Grier’s plight and were asking questions along the lines of:  “If she was a doctor why did she get so sick? Couldn’t she heal herself? If she was doctor why couldn’t she pay her rent?”

This group of students, although they don’t all love history, are predisposed to being interested and engaged with primary sources or at least have high exposure to primary sources, given CHS’s mission (history and civic engagement), and strong NHD participation.  Additionally, both groups of students were selected from voluntary clubs (mock trial, historical society) at a history and civics-focused high school, so their high levels of engagement with the activities are not representative of most students.  But the differences in the type of engagement between grade levels, even among this group, were very instructive.

Using these activities made it hard to extricate content from process; when asked what they specifically liked and didn’t like about both the process and the content (the story), their answers often conflated the two.  The students enjoyed playing history detective and were curious about the gaps in the stories; the gaps kept them interested in the content and wanting to know more.

While still in the early stages of our research, it is promising that students will get involved and seem to enjoy “doing” history using primary sources, first-hand accounts, and photographs; if history is presented as a “story.”

 Posted by on May 9, 2011