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Rebecca Bennette on Wartime Psychiatry

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We asked author Rebecca Bennette three questions about her new book, Diagnosing Dissent: Hysterics, Deserters, and Conscientious Objectors in Germany during World War One, and her research on wartime psychiatry and “war tremblers.”

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

I flew to Germany for a month to visit the first archive that I identified as holding relevant files. I contacted them beforehand, and everything seemed set. Upon arriving, however, I was told I could not see any of the documents due to regulations. 

Dejected and unsure, I sat quietly in the reading room trying to plan my next step. Thankfully, within fifteen minutes the director came out. He had made some calls, and everything was cleared up. I could see all the documents that I needed for my research. I ended up researching at that archive more than any other that I ultimately visited.   

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now? 

I wish I had known that doctors’ handwriting was just as illegible back then as it is said to be now!    

3. How do you wish you could change the field of History? 

I wish we would better highlight the pragmatic, “real world” benefits that come from studying history and knowing it well.  

*Featured photo from Unsplash.

Rebecca Ayako Bennette is Professor of History at Middlebury College, and is the author of Fighting for the Soul of Germany.

See all books by this author.

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