Amy Milne-Smith presents, Before Shell Shock: Failed Minds and Failing Men in the 19th century British Military.
Looking at contemporary ideas of insanity and the potential dangers for men at war from the Crimea to the Boer War provides an important context to the voluminous literature on battle fatigue and the First World War. However, any attempt to “find” examples shell shock or PTSD in the nineteenth-century archive is an ill-fated search. Doctors often failed to determine or record the cause of patients’ insanity, and they did not have a vocabulary of trauma. Rather than trying to fit Victorian ideas of lunacy into later diagnostic categories, in this talk I will examine how contemporary military and civilian doctors diagnosed, classified, and treated mentally ill servicemen returning from war on their own terms. These narratives reveal deep anxieties about the potential for British men to maintain their sanity, and their manhood, in Imperial spaces.
Offered in partnership with the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies.
Admission by donation.
Amy Milne-Smith is a British historian and Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and is a Faculty Associate at the Laurier Centre for Military and Strategic Disarmament Studies.
She received her PhD from the University of Toronto and her first book, London Clubland, details the inner life of the gentlemen’s clubs of London. She is currently finishing a book entitled Madmen in the Attic. This talk comes out of her next project exploring nineteenth century British military psychiatry.