The First World War: trauma and memory
The First World War: trauma and memory

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The First World War: trauma and memory

Week 1: Physical and mental casualties


Welcome to this free course, First World War: trauma and memory. To start, watch the following video in which Annika Mombauer of The Open University introduces this week.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_ww1_vid_1002.mp4
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Welcome to World War I, Trauma and Memory. I’m Annika Mombauer, Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the Open University. And I’ll be your guide over the next three weeks. The First World War was a war of unprecedented scale and brutality. Over the next three weeks, you will discover just how devastating the effects of the war were. You’re going to study the subject of physical and mental trauma, such as shell shock, who was affected by it, and how was it treated. You will also examine the effect this had on civilian populations and how trauma has been represented in art and literature since. This week you will focus on physical and mental casualties of the war.
First of all, you will learn about physical casualties by looking at the death rates and overall casualty rates across the combatant nations. You will also consider issues such as facial disfigurement and loss of limbs, which were encountered on an unprecedented and unexpected scale and posed new challenges to medical professionals.
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After more than four years of fighting in the First World War, the enormous numbers of dead soldiers and civilians couldn’t be counted accurately. It was even more difficult to account for the many millions of injured, maimed and disfigured soldiers.

During the war, armies and medical professionals were pushed to their limits by the sheer scale of suffering. The types of injuries were not necessarily new, but they occurred on an unprecedented scale. New medical treatments became necessary to deal with wounds to bodies and minds. We often tend to reflect much more on those who died than on those who survived the fighting, but the survivors often had to contend with terrible and long-lasting injuries that continued to haunt them long after the fighting had finally ceased in November 1918. For millions, the suffering did not end with the armistice.

Before you continue reading, you might want to try to guess how many soldiers you think were wounded and killed in the First World War. Jot down your estimate of how many soldiers from the UK, Germany and Russia died. Could you speculate on which country may have had the highest numbers of casualties? Where do you think the highest numbers of civilian losses were sustained? You will look at the answers to these questions, and much more besides, as you explore the trauma and memory of the First World War.

The course is designed to run on desktops, tablets and mobile devices; however, some of the material is quite detailed and using a larger screen will enhance your experience. Materials are best viewed running the most up-to-date software available for your device and using the most recent version of the web browser.

Graphic content

Please be warned that this course contains graphic images of injuries sustained by victims of war.


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