What is the Shellshock Popular Culture Archive?

This digital archive exists to catalogue, represent, and showcase four collections of twenty-eight items alongside one exhibit and three case studies, reflecting the influence of shell-shock, a form of trauma originating in violence and/or war, on popular culture and media following the First World War.

Alongside these resources, I offer two digital archival assignments, which can be used alongside this website.

Why Shell-shock?

The controversial term shell-shock was cribbed from the lexicon of soldiers, and introduced into the clinical register in a journal article by Charles Myers in 1915. The term existed as a diagnosis for war-related neuroses and trauma. In June of 1922, the War Officer Committee of Enquiry published their report on shell-shock and its treatment during the Great War. While war poets differ in their representations of war, their shared themes reflect widespread disillusionment with their place on the Western front. I include this story in my collection “War Poetry” and digital exhibit on poetry and the emerging diagnosis of shell-shock to showcase shared messages about war, disability, and masculinity.

What is the timeline of this archive?

1914: Shell-shock created by soldiers to define battle trauma

1915: Taken up by Charles S. Myers in the pages of the Lancet

1914 and beyond: Poets created counternarratives to public perceptions of shell-shock

1922: Report of the War Office Committee drew on shell-shock as “indefinite” line between cowardice and courage

This archive traces the first use of shellshock during the First World War to its first appearances in popular culture. I limit my scope from 1915, when Charles Myers coined the diagnosis in the pages of The Lancet, and the end date for my analysis is September 1, 1939, when the Second World War officially began.  

How should a visitor use this archive?

As you read through the exhibit on war poetry, browse the collections, and examine the supporting materials, I invite you to ask yourself, how does this historical moment still shape approaches to gender, bravery, and war today?

Through three case studies, I have offered some further applications for further analysis, based on the collected materials here.

What are some future directions for the project?

This digital archive serves as a prototype for a larger digital humanities project via an exhibit on war poetry, drawing comparisons between comics and lyrics, alongside clinical records of shell-shock as an evolving diagnosis.

The future version of this digital archive will include two interviews in which I discuss gender and war with two other scholars. I will also include an archival assignment sequence, demonstrating how one might use this archive in a class.

Who am I?

Dr. Galen David Bunting is a postdoctoral teaching associate at Northeastern University. His research examines shell-shock narratives in Modernist literature through the lens of masculinity and gender in the aftermath of the First World War, drawing on original archival research. He has contributed to the Women Writers Project as a research assistant and worked as an editorial assistant for Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. His work has appeared as a case study for the Women Writers Project Vector Toolkit. His articles have appeared in Modern Language Studies, Woolf Studies Annual, Lost Modernists, Peitho, and Praxis: A Writing Center Journal.