Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Trick Cyclists: Neuropsychiatry and the Management of Aerial Warfare, 1939-1945

Dear readers

Let me begin this post by apologising for not updating sooner.  I am back in Scotland for the festive period and my parents have presented me with a massive list of household chores.  Some holiday eh?  Secondly, thank you for continuing to read my blog.  I have had 225 hits so far, which I did not expect! 

I haven't brought any university work home with me, as I intended for this to be an actual holiday, so this post is going to take a slightly different form.  I thought I would share an abstract with you for a paper I am due to give in Glasgow in February 2013.  I was kindly invited to present on my research by PhD students Keith Larson (Glasgow Caledonian University) and Susan Osbaldstone (University of Strathclyde), who are the convenors of the From the Sources to the Discourses postgraduate seminar series.  This series is sponsored by the Wellcome funded Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare (where I did my MSc), the Modern British History Network, and the Economic History Society.  The series gives postgrads a chance to discuss their work and to meet other students from outside of their institution.  For more information visit:  

Those who have met me will know that I am a generally loud, bubbly, and sociable person, but when it comes to presenting at conferences and seminar series, I am a nervous wreck.  I think it is the 'all eyes on you' feeling and the fear of not being able to answer questions.  I am quite far into my research but I still feel a bit out of my depth when it comes to sharing it.  I have kept my topic quite broad, as one of my main archives is closed and I cannot do anything too indepth because of that.  Essentially, I am providing a 20 minute condensed overview of my doctoral research so far.  I am copying and pasting my introduction below and I would really like some feedback from you, my lovely readers:

The Trick Cyclists:  Neuropsychiatry and the Management of Aerial Warfare, 1939-1945

From the Second World War, the British public and historians have enjoyed a romantic relationship with the flyers of the Royal Air Force.  This infatuation began in the summer of 1940, when British fighter pilots defended the country from the powerful German Luftwaffe in full sight of the villages of southern England.  For the remaining years of the war, the nightly rumble of RAF bombers and the daily presence of dashing young men in blue uniforms added an exciting dimension to life on the austere home front.  Enthusiasts and scholars remain captivated by the heroism and bravery of the airmen, which is indicated by, the recent construction of war memorials and the awarding of medals long after the Second World War.  Historians, however, have yet to examine the full extent of the sacrifices made.  The flyers of the RAF were considered gallant and heroic due to the dangers they faced in operational flying, but these men faced unparalleled psychological strains throughout the war and an organised team of mental specialists were essential in treating the emotional and neurological burdens of modern warfare. 

Each of the British armed forces employed a number of different tactics in the battle against mental disorder in twentieth century warfare.  The most common was to employ a number of psychiatric and neurological specialists to diagnose, treat, and above all, prevent mental breakdown.  This practice has received extensive attention from historians, who have produced a rich historiography that details the history of military psychiatry.  The weight of scholarship, however, is completely imbalanced in favour of the army, which has led to the experiences of the RAF and Royal Navy being largely overlooked.  This gap in knowledge is significant, as the RAF employed very specific mental specialists to manage the psychological effects of aerial warfare:  neuropsychiatrists or as they were affectionately known, the 'trick cyclists'.  My paper intends to assess the processes by which RAF neuropsychiatrists sought to prevent and treat mental disorder during the Second World War.  I will describe the structure, administration, and organisation of neuropsychiatry in the RAF and will briefly outline the theories, methods, and disciplinary alliances that underpinned neuropsychiatry at this time.  I will then move to examine the roles and duties of neuropsychiatrists in the areas of screening and selection, preventive policies, and the treatment of psychiatric casualties.


As you can probably tell, this is definitely a work in progress and any comments/criticisms you have will be gratefully received.  Also, if you have any tips for me to improve my confidence in academic public speaking, please let me know.  This is a fear that I am going to have to overcome if I am ever going to become a good historian.

Best wishes


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