In the Land of Mad Men: Diagnosis Treatment, and Social Stigma Surrounding Shell Shock in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces of the First World War, 1914-1930

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Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2017


The subject of traumatic war neurosis---today such an integral part of discussions of military service and civil obligations to traumatized veterans---finds its origins in the controversy surrounding shell shock in the First World War. Stories of nerve wrecked men with inexplicable symptoms captivated public interest in a way that it never had before, forcing both the medical and military communities to confront the specter of war neurosis in modern warfare. My work targets the battle over diagnostic methodology that occurred between Canadian neurologists and psychiatrists. Cases of psychologically traumatized servicemen became the fighting ground between each discipline as both sides sought to prove their own theories of causation and treatment correct. My thesis traces the history of “shell shock” in Canada from its beginnings in 1914 through the post-war pension debate of 1930. In particular I focus on how the diagnoses of war neurosis in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces were influenced not only by the constantly changing medical understanding of the disease, but also by Canadian masculinity, social class, and heredity as well as the needs of the Allied forces.

My thesis draws on personal letters and memoirs of Canadian soldiers with shell shock as well as military memos and correspondence to tell the story of the men that experienced shell shock in the First World War. My research also relies heavily on private patient files, medical publications, and medical notes and memos regarding shell shocked Canadians.

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