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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.

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