Otago Polytechnic

A desire to engage young people with old stories was the driving force behind a local social history storytelling exhibition: Who Cared? Otago Nurses in WWI at Otago Museum.

Inspired by the literary narrative of the historical novel Lives We Leave Behind by Dunedin author Maxine Alterio, staff and students of the School of Design illustrated three nurses from Otago caring for wounded soldiers in France during World War One. Set during the autumn of 1917, the exhibition allowed visitors to immerse themselves in the journeys of the nurses at a temporary surgery, hospital ward, and Nissen hut where the nurses lived and worked.

Caroline McCaw and Leyton Glen, Otago Polytechnic Communication Design Lecturers, teamed up with a group of students and the Otago Museum for the ambitious project. Caro says they hoped to bring about an empathetic experience. “We hoped that young people could find a part of themselves in the nurses’ stories as well as learn about and be inspired by experiences they had never before imagined.”

Who Cared? was the biggest public exhibition that School of Design students have ever worked on. Over a course of six months, the completed exhibition attracted over 38,000 visitors. The exhibition took a fully immersive approach to history. “There were no panels of text in the entire exhibition,” says Caro. “All the information was embedded in the characters, their few possessions, and the sounds and smells.”

“We all learnt a lot about new techniques including interaction design in the museum context, the process of sourcing props and using projectors and screens. We also absorbed a lot of new historical knowledge about ancient surgery techniques, famous battles and the New Zealand contribution to the Great War” she says.


McCaw, C., Glen, L., Oliver, M., Wilson, J., and Scott, C. Who Cared?  Otago Museum, Dunedin. 2015




Image credit: James Russell