2014 will mark 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War. On the occasion of this important anniversary the Centre for the History of Education of the KU Leuven (Belgium), the Centre for War Studies of Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) and the Centre for the History of Medicine of the University of Kent (United Kingdom) propose to organize an international conference aimed at reflecting on the impact of that specific event on soldiers’ bodies and minds. Millions of men all over the globe, in fact, returned home limbless, sightless, deaf, disfigured or mentally distressed.
In the last decades disability history has attracted an increasing interest in the scholarly community, thus becoming a well-established field, which has been highlighting, among others, the experiences of impaired people, medical and rehabilitative techniques, charitable institutions and welfare measures, public reception and private emotions. The First World War has somehow represented a watershed both in the visibility and the treatment of impairment and disablement owing to the massive amount of men who suffered physical injuries or mental disorder symptoms as a consequence of the conflict. These men happened, therefore, to embody the destructiveness of war and performed as human and living ‘sites of memory’. Because of their heralded heroism in the battlefields, shattered soldiers, however, were commonly considered worthy and in need of an (economic and medical) assistance that disabled civilians had not experienced beforehand. In spite of such considerations and of the yet numerous studies focusing on the interrelation between war and disablement (Julie Anderson, Joanna Burke, Ana Carden-Coyne, Deborah Cohen, David Gerber, Sabine Kienitz, Marina Larsson just to mention few), there has never been organized so far an international conference dealing exclusively with such a topic in an historical and comparative perspective.
Disabled veterans have always been involved in the commemorations of the Great War, but they have never been the focal point of any celebration. That is why we believe that the upcoming centenary of 2014 may provide us with an important opportunity to reflect upon the impact of war on the individual lives of those (and their families) who came back impaired, as well as on the institutions (charities, governmental agencies, ministries, associations, etc.) taking charge of their care and assistance during and after the conflict. Hence, we’d like to explore the question of the political, social, medical and cultural legacies of war disability in postwar society. The conference will be specifically interested in strengthening comparative and transnational approaches. A selection of the papers presented at the conference will be published as a seperate special issue of the International Journal of the Society for First World War Studies (Taylor & Francis) in 2014.