Reading Researchers: The Men with Broken Faces

In addition to our teaching excellence (100% student satisfaction in the most recent National Student Survey!), the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading  is internationally recognised for its research excellence: we ranked 4th in the latest UK rankings for research impact in Modern Languages, and 5th place for research intensity, coming out overall ahead of Oxford and several Russell Group universities, including Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol and Exeter. With so much exciting work going on, from time to time we’d like to highlight some of the innovative and compelling research that members of the department are pursuing in our “Reading Researchers” feature.

Dr Marjorie Gerhardt of the University of Reading, a cultural historian specialising in 20th-century France

Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt of the University of Reading, a cultural historian specialising in 20th-century France

This month, we’re celebrating the publication of a major new book by Dr Marjorie GehrhardtThe Men with Broken Faces: Gueules Cassées of the First World War (Peter Lang, 2015). Dr Gehrhardt is a cultural historian whose research focuses on war and its representations in twentieth-century Western Europe, with a particular interest in the reintegration of veterans and the role of charities in wartime. She joined the University of Reading in September 2015 and she teaches on several French and European history modules. We’ve asked her to share some of her findings with us:

On 28 June 1919, as delegates in the Paris Peace Conference made their way to the table where the treaty was displayed, they had to walk past five facially injured French soldiers invited there by the French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. Although they remained silent during the ceremony, they did not go unnoticed by the attendees.

Despite the place of the disfigured combatants on centre stage at this symbolic event, the presence of these men and the role they played in the war and the interwar period have rarely been studied. This is not because gueules cassées [broken faces], as the disfigured combatants came to be known in France, were very few, or because they did not mix with civilians, on the contrary. The silence surrounding disfigured soldiers and veterans can be accounted for by the painful memories evoked by their faces, and by the fact that they themselves often wished to blend in, not to stand out.

Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt's new book, The Men with Broken Faces:  Gueules Cassées of the First World War (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2015)

Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt’s new book, The Men with Broken Faces: Gueules Cassées of the First World War (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2015)

In The Men with Broken Faces, I explore one of the lesser-known aspects of the First World War in France, Germany and Great Britain. Using a variety of primary sources, ranging from medical accounts to contemporary press reports and artistic representa­tions, I analyse society’s responses to facial injury as well as the experiences of disfigurement narrated by gueules cassées themselves. The Men with Broken Faces high­lights the visibility of facially injured men and discusses different responses to their presence, whilst also interrogating their role and representation in wartime and interwar societies. It underlines the often paradoxical situa­tion of men who sought to lead ordinary lives and yet also became symbols of the war.

For more news about all the world-class research we do in the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies at the University of Reading, as well as updates about our students, staff, and alumni, follow this blog, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Twitter feed. You may also wish to contact Dr Marjorie Gehrhardt directly, as she welcomes enquiries from postgraduate students wishing to work on twentieth century cultural history, First World War studies, medical history or the history of the voluntary sector.

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