Shell-shock in First World War Britain: an intellectual and medical history, c.1860-c.1920
Historians have identified shell-shock, a contemporary umbrella term for the range of nervous and mental afflictions suffered by soldiers in the First World War, as a key episode in the transition to modern psychological approaches to mental disorder in Britain. This thesis argues that wartime theories of shell-shock display considerable continuity with central tenets of pre-war psychological medicine. An approach to the history of shell-shock which emphasises continuity opens new perspectives on the significance of the episode for British psychiatry and society in the early twentieth century. This thesis shows that theories of shell-shock were formulated within an evolutionary framework of understanding, and breaks down the conventional historiographical division between `organic' and `psychological' explanations of the war neuroses. It argues that in the debates on shell-shock, doctors explored questions about the constituents of human identity which had been given fresh urgency by the Darwinian revolution. They attempted to understand the relative roles of mind and body in the causation of mental disorder, but also invoked other conceptual pairings: the relations between animal and human behaviour, the balance of emotion and will in ideal conduct, the influence of heredity and environment in shaping action, and the interaction of individual and social psychologies. Wartime psychological medicine thus drew on and extended existing debates within and outside medicine, including those on the traumatic neuroses, crowd psychology and democracy, and the relative rights and responsibilities of citizen and state. The thesis argues that the importance of shell-shock therefore extended beyond its putative effect on British psychology. Theories of the war neuroses were a microcosm of debates on the nature of modernity, its nebulous effects on the individual, and its consequences for society.
AuthorsLoughran, Tracey Louise
- Theses