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Crossing Borders

Military engagements during World War One took place across the European continent, transporting soldiers from around the world to foreign sites of engagement, but also affecting millions of civilians. Military personnel were recruited to “slip across and help.” In perpetual transit, they moved among sites of engagement, and crossed paths with prisoners and other soldiers also experiencing new people and cultures. Willard Straight (Class of 1901) writing to his wife Dorothy towards the end of the war, sketched a group of captured Austrian soldiers, noting their uniforms and speculating that they were glad that they were “no longer obliged to strike out against the young huskies [i.e., Russians].”

The displacement of refugees reached crisis proportions very soon after German troops entered Belgium and Northern France in 1914 and continued throughout the war. Hostilities forced even larger migrations of civilians in Armenia, Russia and the Balkans, challenging relief agencies such as the Red Cross to provide support for millions of displaced and disenfranchised people. The famous photographer and child labor activist, Lewis Hine, documented the movements of refugees in the Balkans and Greece, focusing his lens on the effects of dislocation on children, who were somehow able to persevere despite severe deprivations.

  • Case background: Subject Nationalities of the German Alliance. London: Dangerfield Printing Co. Ltd., 1917. Cornell University Map Collection.
  • Come Lad, Slip Across and Help. London: Parliamentary Recruiting Committee, 1915.
  • Maj. Willard Straight to Dorothy Whitney Straight [later Elmhirst]. September 13, 1918. Illustrated letter with cartoon depiction of captured Austrian soldiers. Dorothy Whitney Straight Elmhirst papers. Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
  • W. B. King. Lest They Perish. New York: American Committee for Relief in the Near East, 1917. World War I Broadside Collection. Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
  • Capt. Lewis Hine. Maria, a Greek Shepherdess on the Hillside with Mount Parnassus in the Distance. November, 1918. Livingston Farrand Papers, Cornell University Archives. Courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

    This image comes from an album of photographs taken by the photographer Lewis Hine during an American Red Cross expedition to the Balkans, during which he documented the forced migration of refugees, especially children. Hine presented this album to Livingston Farrand (later, the fourth president of Cornell University) while Farrand was president of the American Red Cross. Hine worked under the command of Lt. Col. Homer Folks, American Red Cross Special Survey Mission, November 1918-April 1919.

  • Fernand Cuville. Soldats russes posant dans les ruines du cloître des Cordeliers (Reims) [Russian Soldiers Posing Amid the Ruins of the Cordeliers’ Cloister (Reims)], 1917. Autochrome photograph.