Knox students and scholars from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom gathered in the Ferris Lounge to observe the public lecture of the Second International Symposium on Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
Professor of French Cultural History at Leeds University Alison Fell visited the Knox campus on the evening of Friday, April 27. Her lecture, “Far From Home?: Perceptions and Experiences of First World War Nurses and Their Patients,” explored an often overlooked topic in modern history through narratives and socio-historical analyses.
Fell centered her lecture around WWI nurses and their relationships to patients, the media’s depictions of home and enemy nurses, as well as public esteem for nurses’ status.
Studying the narratives of WWI nurses has helped Fell analyze the experiences of non-combatant personnel who weren’t considered to be contributors to the war effort. Associate Professor of History Emre Sencer also attended Fell’s lecture.
Sencer added that there were common misconceptions about the degree of involvement of war personnel:
“Wars are not just fought by [soldiers] but there are all these other [roles] like drivers, clerks, cooks, but more importantly nurses,” Sencer said.
The International Symposium on Expeditionary Forces in World War I explores subjects beyond the experiences of nurses. Among the other topics Sencer mentioned were Prisoners of War, border issues and transnational issues.
“This is a rather understudied area, the notion of expedition É but we’re not interested in tactics and strategies, we’re interested in what happens to humans,” Sencer said.
Fell’s lecture also focused on the human aspect of storytelling. She delved into the stereotyping of war nurses from sex objects to saintly maternal figures, and examined the war’s lasting impact on their lives.
“As [Fell] said, a nurse is not just someone in a mothering position, but someone who has to intimately deal with broken bodies of men, so it has a huge traumatic factor on them as well,” Sencer said.
He believes that studying this topic can influence the way we analyze modern military situations such as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“If you want to understand what it meant to go abroad and come back, which is a factor we live with right now if you consider wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our serving men and women are having these problems as well, [so] we get a mirror to look into that [experience] 100 years earlier in a broader perspective,” Sencer said.
Knox’s Digital Media Specialist Ethan Crow agreed with Sencer’s point of view. He noted that as political times change, parallels to different historical times are often invoked. He listed the ‘50s and ‘70s as examples of political times that have strong connections to current events. However, he believes all of history should be used to learn from.
“Everything in the cannon of history needs representation — what people think of as relevant day to day will change a lot depending on the time — today, the average person may not be thinking about WWI very much but that doesn’t mean that WWI is not relevant to the day to day life, it’s just that they’re not familiar [with it],” Crow said.
Crow believes the academic impact of hosting the Expeditionary Forces symposiums at Knox is especially pertinent.
According to Crow, aside from spectators who are able to learn from and engage with the speaker during the presentation, Knox students also benefit indirectly from the lecture content.
“Conferences like these are really important because they present an opportunity for the college to be a center for intellectual development … Our professors are able to bring those [new] ideas into the classroom as well, so it [allows for] a lot of development,” Crow said.
Sencer commented on the predicted success of the symposium considering its growth in members and their ongoing work.
“If [their essays] get published I think it will be the first devoted volume on expedition other than just strategy and tactic, but the human aspects of war and society,” Sencer said.