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Abstract

Shell-shock is a powerful symbol of the devastating effects of the First World War on men. Until recently, scholars of gender and trauma tended to follow the lines established by Elaine Showalter's interpretation of shell-shock as a crisis of masculinity. However, over the past decade, historians have investigated different aspects of war trauma and have placed it in different social and cultural contexts. This essay examines recent histories of masculinity and male war experience and discussions of female war trauma and military nursing. It argues that historically and historiographically, shell-shock has been defined as a masculine illness, and this constitutes a ‘blind spot’ in historical discourse. Historians must explicitly articulate and justify their definitions of war trauma, incorporate the possibility of female trauma into their histories and move beyond gender to explore the multiple contexts within which contemporaries understood trauma.