Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

ARC DECRA Fellow

School of Humanities and Social Science

The world of war and psychiatry

Historian Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen is developing the first comprehensive account of the consequences of World War Two for psychiatric theory and practice.

Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

There has been a lot written about the impact of World War One on the history of psychiatry – especially shell shock and the emergence of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there is surprisingly little on the impact of World War Two on the practice of psychiatry – particularly the sort of patients it brought into view.

During her three-year project funded by a 2016 Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, Elizabeth will delve into the historical documentation of patients such as combatants, POWs, survivors of the holocaust and children separated from their parents during World War Two to uncover the conflict’s effect on modern day psychiatry.

The theory and practice of psychiatry changed dramatically across the course of the 20th century. In this period the profession moved from being a marginal specialty centred on the asylum to become a central fixture of contemporary life, intertwined with state structures and popular culture.

This project will generate the historical context for World War Two’s seminal role in the influence of psychiatry in the post-war world as well for contemporary concerns about war trauma and the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder more broadly.

“…over time symptoms are not only interpreted differently, but can also appear to present in greater or lesser degrees in different conflicts, and have different meanings for both patients and clinicians.

The idea for the project, titled, ‘Unquiet Minds: Psychiatry in World War Two and its aftermaths’, has been percolating in Elizabeth’s mind since her PhD nine years ago.

“My PhD was on British volunteers in a series of wars in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries – one of these was the Spanish Civil War and there was this passing remark by an American Commissar to the effect that, ‘Our men are not going to get shell shock in this war because they are committed to the cause and they are motivated,’” she recalls.

“That comment lodged in the back of my mind, because it changed my perception of combat stress syndromes as timeless and unchanging. In fact culture and circumstance play a large role in how symptoms are perceived, described and understood.

“It’s interesting that over time symptoms are not only interpreted differently, but can also appear to present in greater or lesser degrees in different conflicts, and have different meanings for both patients and clinicians. The ‘flashbacks’ of post-traumatic stress disorder do not appear in the literature on shell shock, for example.

“One thing I am hoping to do in this project is investigate how the interactions between psychiatrists and certain cohorts of patients can generate a kind of feedback loop, with clinical encounters producing a certain kind of literature in medical journals, which then informs subsequent clinical encounters and popular understandings of wartime syndromes.”

An energetic and talented early career researcher, Elizabeth has published widely on the social and cultural history of modern warfare, including her book Freedom, Faction, Fame and Blood: British Soldiers of Conscience in Greece, Spain and Finland and key journal papers on sexual violence in wartime and war neurosis. Other persisting interests are régimes of discipline and punishment in the armed forces, gender and war, memorialisation and, now, the use of psychiatry during wartime.

Over the next three years, Elizabeth will combine archival research into official and personal papers with a close reading of medical periodicals, major metropolitan newspapers and existing scholarship on the case studies available. As part of this, she will travel to archives in the UK, the US, and Canberra and Melbourne in Australia.

The project will culminate with a monograph, a series of journal articles, and a conference planned for the end of the project to bring together those interested in war and psychiatry.

Elizabeth is also the newest member of the University of Newcastle’s Centre for the History of Violence – which has attracted over $2.5 million of ARC funding since 2012, including a 2014 ARC Discovery Project (DP) on ‘Violence on the Australian Colonial Frontier’; a 2014 Future Fellowship investigating ‘War, Violence, and Apocalyptic-Millenarianism in the Middle East’; and a 2015 ARC DP on ‘Intimacy and Violence in Anglo Pacific Rim Colonial Societies 1830-1930’.

“I’m really excited to be part of the Centre for the History of Violence. I think it’s great that the University has been able to bring together scholars working on the impact of violence in various contexts and I’m really looking forward to talking with others who are interested in similar issues. In some ways, we are all working on the lived experience of warfare and violence, but in different time periods – so we can see continuities as well as the differences.”

Elizabeth Roberts Pedersen

The world of war and psychiatry

Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen is developing the first comprehensive account of the consequences of World War Two for psychiatric theory and practice.

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Career Summary

Biography

Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen is an ARC DECRA Fellow in the Centre for the History of Violence, where she is researching the impact of World War Two on the theory and practice of psychiatry. She was previously a Lecturer in History at Western Sydney University (2010-2015).

Elizabeth’s research focuses on the cultural and social histories of warfare in the modern world and, increasingly, the broader history of psychiatry, psychiatric patients and treatment regimes. Her doctoral thesis (University of Sydney, 2007) examined the experience of British volunteers in the Greek War of Independence, the Spanish Civil War and the Russo-Finnish War. This became the book Freedom, Faction, Fame and Blood (Sussex Academic Press, 2010).  She has also published on wartime psychiatry and therapeutics, and sexual violence and the courts-martial system in the Second AIF.

 Her current ARC-funded project, ‘Unquiet Minds: Psychiatry in World War Two and its aftermaths’, aims to provide the first comprehensive account of the consequences of that conflict for psychiatric theory and practice by focusing on the ways in which the stringencies of total war forged new patient cohorts on the battlefield and the home front and thus implicated psychiatry in the social and economic projects of the post-war world. 


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Sydney

Keywords

  • Gender and war
  • History of psychiatry
  • War memorialisation
  • World War II

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
210399 Historical Studies not elsewhere classified 50
220205 History and Philosophy of Medicine 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
ARC DECRA Fellow University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
Australia

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
7/03/2010 - 31/01/2016 Lecturer Western Sydney University
Australia
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Book (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2010 Roberts E, "Freedom, Faction, Fame and Blood" British Soldiers of Conscience in Greece, Spain and Finland, Sussex Academic Press, 284 (2010)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

Chapter (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 Roberts-Pedersen E, ''The outrage in miri': Sex, race and violence and the second AIF in Sarawak', The Pacific War: Aftermaths, Remembrance and Culture 200-213 (2014)
DOI 10.4324/9781315815541
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2004 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'The Abraham Lincoln Brigade and the Communist Party', History in Dispute, Volume 18: The Spanish Civil War, St James Press, Detroit 5-8 (2004)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

Journal article (6 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 Roberts-Pedersen E, 'The Hard School: Physical Treatments for War Neurosis in Britain during the Second World War', Social History of Medicine, 29 611-632 (2016)
DOI 10.1093/shm/hkv146
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2015 Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen, 'Impelled to Reminiscence: Millais Culpin, Military Psychiatry, and the Politics of Therapy', Health and History, 17 1-16 (2015) [C1]
DOI 10.5401/healthhist.17.2.0001
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2014 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'Damage: The 'war neurotic' serviceman comes home', History Australia, 11 82-101 (2014)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2012 Roberts-Pedersen E, 'A weak spot in the personality? Conceptualising "war neurosis" in british medical literature of the second world war', Australian Journal of Politics and History, 58 408-420 (2012)

Through an analysis of leading British medical journals during the Second World War, this article argues that psychiatric understandings of the "war neurosis" suffered by British ... [more]

Through an analysis of leading British medical journals during the Second World War, this article argues that psychiatric understandings of the "war neurosis" suffered by British servicemen during that conflict were predicated on a notion of the "neurotic serviceman" as an objective personality type predisposed to break down during the strain of wartime. By discounting the effects of traumatic war experiences in favour of an aetiology that located the genesis of psychiatric disorder within the inherently unstable individual, such an approach minimized the influence of the martial environment in favour of heredity and the events of early childhood as the ultimate arbiters of mental stability in service personnel. © 2012 The Author. Australian Journal of Politics and History © 2012 School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, School of Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland and Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.

DOI 10.1111/j.1467-8497.2012.01644.x
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2008 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'British and American Volunteers and the Politics of Dress and Demeanour in the Spanish Civil War', Limina: a journal of historical and cultural studies, 14 59-70 (2008)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2006 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'The Spanish Precedent: British Volunteers in the Russo-Finnish War', History Australia, 3 7.1-7.14 (2006)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
Show 3 more journal articles

Review (3 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'Waltraud Ernst (ed.), Work, Psychiatry and Society, c.1750-2015 (2017)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2016 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'Against universalism - Beyond surrender: Australian prisoners of war in the twentieth century (2016)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2008 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'Review of 'Ghosts of Passion: Martyrdom, Gender, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War' (2008)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

Other (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'From Shell Shock to PTSD: Proof of War's Traumatic History', (2015)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
2014 Roberts-Pedersen EJ, 'Foreign Fighters Test the State's Monopoly on Violence', (2014)
Co-authors Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 4
Total funding $425,632

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20172 grants / $24,975

Society, Health and Disability Research Group: New Horizons$15,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts

Funding body University of Newcastle - Faculty of Education and Arts
Scheme FEDUA Strategic Networks and Pilot Projects (SNaPP)
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2017
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

2017 International Visitor from University of Illinois, USA$9,975

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen, Professor Mark Micale
Scheme International Research Visiting Fellowship
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2017
GNo G1600874
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y

20162 grants / $400,657

Unquiet Minds: Psychiatry in World War Two and its aftermaths$390,657

Funding body: ARC (Australian Research Council)

Funding body ARC (Australian Research Council)
Project Team Doctor Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
Scheme Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2018
GNo G1500319
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Commonwealth
Category 1CS
UON Y

DVC(RI) Research Support for DECRA (DE16)$10,000

Funding body: University of Newcastle

Funding body University of Newcastle
Project Team Doctor Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen
Scheme DECRA Support
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2018
GNo G1600233
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON Y
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed2
Current1

Total current UON EFTSL

PhD0.6

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2016 PhD Torture, Psychology, and the U.S War on Terror: A Manhattan Project of the Mind PhD (History), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle Principal Supervisor

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2016 PhD Relations between Officers and men in the Australian Armed Forces in World War Two History, Western Sydney University Co-Supervisor
2013 PhD 'Sometimes a little injustice must be suffered for the public good': how the National Security (Aliens Control) Regulations 1939 affected the lives of German, Italian, Japanese and Australian-born women living in Australia during the Second World War History, Western Sydney University Co-Supervisor
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News

Historicizing Violence: the Contested Histories of Present Day Conflict

Call for papers: Historicising Violence

June 7, 2017

Historicising Violence: the Contested Histories of Present Day Conflict

A multidisciplinary conference convened by the Centre for the History of Violence at the University of Newcastle, Australia, to be held at the Rome Global Gateway, University of Notre Dame, Rome, 22-24 November 2017.

The View from Australasia

Symposium to examine psychiatry, trauma and history in a global age: the view from Australasia

May 10, 2017

A symposium on Friday May 19th will bring together clinicians and historians to discuss what is unique to accounts of trauma in an Australasian context. The symposium will marshal University of Newcastle expertise on Indigenous trauma, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, clinical approaches to refugees and other diverse populations, plus various historians from around the country on the impact of wartime.

Research Directions 2016

July 7, 2016

Read the latest research highlights from the Faculty.

Dr Elizabeth Roberts-Pedersen

Position

ARC DECRA Fellow
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Contact Details

Email elizabeth.roberts-pedersen@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 6619

Office

Room MCLG22b
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