CONVERSATIONS: The End of the World as We Know It

May 2016

Conversation: The End of the World as We Know it: PTSD, Shock, & Conflict
Discussion Partner:
Shannon French, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, Case Western Reserve University
Inamori Center for Ethics, Seminar Room
Thursday, May 12th, 6:30PM

In 1865, a train carrying author Charles Dickens jumped a gap in the tracks and plunged into a river gorge. Dickens helped to save passengers and behaved with “remarkable self-possession” during the incident, but shortly after returning to London he suffered terrors he described as “unreasonable but unsurmountable.” Though apparently unharmed, Dickens lost his voice after the accident, and claimed later that he had “brought someone else’s [voice] out of that terrible scene” rather than his own [i]. There are two Dickens, here; the “self-possessed” man and the “someone else” that Dickens himself does not entirely recognize. This perilous division haunted him for the rest of his life, the inheritance of trauma.

The latter half of the nineteenth century saw its share of traumatic incidents, and theorists and physicians tried hard to understand how trauma damaged or affected the mind. At the same time, however, the Victorians emphasized individual willful control in the face of catastrophe–an expectation that affected how patients were treated. These experiences of trauma only grew more devastating with the first and second World Wars; Shell Shock–what today we recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder–changed the way we understood trauma and the self, though the condition remains widely misunderstood. With the advent of weapons of mass destruction, nations, soldiers, and everyday individuals saw the “end of the world” as they knew it–a form of trauma that was not always visible, but which became deeply woven into the modern experience.

Join us for a discussion on the history of shock and PTSD, with Brandy Schillace of the Dittrick Museum and Inamori Professor of Ethics Shannon French, editor-in-chief for the International Journal of Ethical Leadership, and an associate editor for the Journal of Military Ethics. Come be a part of the Conversation!

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[i] Matus, Jill L.. Shock, Memory and the Unconscious in Victorian Fiction. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.