Title

Trans-Atlantic Shell Shock: British and American Literatures of World War One Trauma

Proposal Type

Poster

Additional Presenter Information

Associate Professor, College of Arts and Letters, Department of English, Dahlonega

Keywords

Shell shock, PTSD, World War I, Modernism, Military History

Subject Area

English/Communications

Start Date

11-11-2016 11:45 AM

End Date

11-11-2016 1:15 PM

Description/Abstract

During the summer of 2016, I used my Presidential Summer Award to conduct research at the National World War I Museum and draft a book proposal for the University of North Georgia Press. The proposed collection of essays, now under contract, addresses the need for a comparative analysis of the British and American cultural and literary receptions of shell shock and other World War I trauma. While the effect of shell shock on British modernism has been the subject of much analysis, there has not yet been an interdisciplinary study of the correlative effects on American modernism and interwar culture. This is a timely project as we observe the centenary of the war, and is particularly well suited to UNG because it facilitates discussion in the university and the larger community of the nature of war trauma, a subject of great interest to our many veteran students and to our Corps of Cadets.

My introduction to the book establishes a context for the analysis of shell shock literature by comparing military, medical, and social reactions to World War I trauma in the UK and the USA. In the UK, I argue, shell shock was a national crisis that radically undermined British cultural assumptions about masculinity and character. Shell shock baffled British medical and military experts, who treated the condition variously as a problem of physical health, legality, and psychology. The length and severity of the crisis generated an entire literature of shell shock that was not limited to the famous “trench poets,” such as Sassoon and Owen, but included women who served in various capacities as well as civilians of both sexes.

American literature of shell shock is less extensive because Americans were involved relatively briefly in the war. However, my research shows that, while shell shock took the UK by surprise, the American medical and military establishments had studied it extensively and put great effort into obviating the problem. Indeed, the material realization of the mobilization of the American military was heavily influenced by the study of shell shock. Initially, shell shock was anticipated as an inevitable and immediate concern of modern warfare. However, it was not generally realized in American veterans until after the war was over. American shell shock, as the US Army later realized, was widespread, but emerged gradually in veterans. It also emerged gradually in American literature throughout the interwar years and beyond.

Bio

Austin Riede is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Georgia. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, and his BA and MA at The Ohio State University. He teaches primarily Modern and Contemporary British Literature, Victorian Literature, Literature and Film, and Science Fiction. He has published articles on the World War I literature of W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, Vera Brittain, David Jones, and Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His current project is a peer-reviewed edited collection (produced through funding from a UNG Presidential Summer Award, and under contract with the University of North Georgia Press) on the different receptions and legacies of World War I shell shock in British and American literature and culture.

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Nov 11th, 11:45 AM Nov 11th, 1:15 PM

Trans-Atlantic Shell Shock: British and American Literatures of World War One Trauma

During the summer of 2016, I used my Presidential Summer Award to conduct research at the National World War I Museum and draft a book proposal for the University of North Georgia Press. The proposed collection of essays, now under contract, addresses the need for a comparative analysis of the British and American cultural and literary receptions of shell shock and other World War I trauma. While the effect of shell shock on British modernism has been the subject of much analysis, there has not yet been an interdisciplinary study of the correlative effects on American modernism and interwar culture. This is a timely project as we observe the centenary of the war, and is particularly well suited to UNG because it facilitates discussion in the university and the larger community of the nature of war trauma, a subject of great interest to our many veteran students and to our Corps of Cadets.

My introduction to the book establishes a context for the analysis of shell shock literature by comparing military, medical, and social reactions to World War I trauma in the UK and the USA. In the UK, I argue, shell shock was a national crisis that radically undermined British cultural assumptions about masculinity and character. Shell shock baffled British medical and military experts, who treated the condition variously as a problem of physical health, legality, and psychology. The length and severity of the crisis generated an entire literature of shell shock that was not limited to the famous “trench poets,” such as Sassoon and Owen, but included women who served in various capacities as well as civilians of both sexes.

American literature of shell shock is less extensive because Americans were involved relatively briefly in the war. However, my research shows that, while shell shock took the UK by surprise, the American medical and military establishments had studied it extensively and put great effort into obviating the problem. Indeed, the material realization of the mobilization of the American military was heavily influenced by the study of shell shock. Initially, shell shock was anticipated as an inevitable and immediate concern of modern warfare. However, it was not generally realized in American veterans until after the war was over. American shell shock, as the US Army later realized, was widespread, but emerged gradually in veterans. It also emerged gradually in American literature throughout the interwar years and beyond.