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Shell shock stories project focuses on experiences of family historians with World War I ancestors

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The psychological trauma experienced by soldiers during the First World War – and relatives who have been traumatised by researching their family's history of the conflict – will be the focus of a new community engagement project led by academics at the University of Nottingham.

From shell shocked soldiers recovering in specialist hospitals to cases of 'barbed wire disease' in 'enemy alien' internment camps, the psychologists and historians are interested in hearing about any stories of trauma which have been uncovered by community history projects as part of their research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

 

Their work will focus on a wide range of trauma narratives, including post-1918 literary and poetic references, right through to the experiences of contemporary family historians who have been affected by uncovering mental health problems of ancestors involved in the war.

The project is being led by Professor Nigel Hunt, a trauma expert in the University's Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology, and historian Dr Larissa Allwork, who are part of the University's Centre for Hidden Histories.

Describing wartime trauma

Professor Nigel Hunt said: "The differences between historical and contemporary perspectives on mental and emotional trauma present a challenge to community researchers as it requires an understanding of how such trauma was regarded, described and recorded in historical records.

"An additional challenge is presented by the emotional impact on the researcher who examines potentially disturbing and upsetting material. This challenge is often felt more keenly by researchers who investigate people with whom they have a direct connection, such as members of their family or community."

Centre for Hidden Histories

The Centre for Hidden Histories is one of five First World War engagement centres that have been established by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to investigate the war and support community groups in their efforts to research and commemorate the war.

Over the course of the centenary of the First World War, many community groups have expressed an interest in examining the human impact of the war and have raised the difficulties of comprehending the events of the war without understanding its traumatic effects. They have looked to the engagement centres to support them in doing this.

The latest project is intended to equip community partners from across the network of First World War Engagement Centres with the skills and support to meet the challenges of researching trauma and ensuring that this crucial perspective on the First World War is not forgotten.

Public involvement

As part of the project, Professor Hunt and Dr Allwork will be holding a series of public workshops across the UK for community groups on the topic of trauma, the First World War and its aftermath.

They are keen to hear from community history projects about topics including:

  • Autobiographical narratives by soldiers on the front line who suffered from shell shock
  • Observations on shell shock by First World War era doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists
  • Observations on shell shock in First World War era local and national newspapers
  • Encounters with trauma stories through family history research
  • Encounters with stories of 'barbed wire' disease uncovered by research into British 'enemy alien' internment camps
  • Encounters with stories of trauma associated with histories of migration and displacement

Anyone who is researching stories of trauma as part of a First World War centenary community research project can contact Dr Allwork by e-mail or on Twitter @LarissaAllwork

 

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