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Diagnosing dissent: German soldiers, military psychiatry, and patient agency in WW I

On December 9, Rebecca Ayako Bennette (Middlebury College, USA) holds her lecture “Diagnosing dissent: German soldiers, military psychiatry, and patient agency in World War One”. The lecture is part of the KU Leuven Health Humanities Lecture Series 2021-2022, which has patient agency as its overall theme.

Bennette’s new interpretation of military psychiatry in Germany during World War I demonstrates that contemporary doctors were neither as dismissive of the traumatizing effects of modern warfare nor as brutal in their approach to afflicted soldiers as historians have commonly believed. This not only affected the treatment of shell-shocked soldiers but also impacted how even overt forms of disobedience and opposition like desertion and conscientious objection were handled. Instead of criminalizing these soldiers, as was commonly the case in other countries, the German system medicalized them, allowing for far more space for dissent within the military. Soldiers used this space created within the practice of military psychiatry to assert patient agency, despite the uneven playing field with which they had to contend.

Rebecca Ayako Bennette is a professor of history at Middlebury College in Vermont (USA). She is the author of Fighting for the soul of Germany: The Catholic struggle for inclusion after unification (Harvard University Press, 2012) and Diagnosing dissent: Hysterics, deserters, and conscientious objectors in Germany during World War One (Cornell University Press, 2020).

Date and time: December 9, 2021, 4-5.30 pm CET.
Register here, you will receive the link after registration.