Violence & Trauma: Narratives of War in First Person Writings by Austrian War Nurses (WW I)

This project deals with first person writings by Austrian-Hungarian war nurses, which only rarely survived. These sources are firstly embedded into the broader context of female participation in World War I, thus asking for example about quantitative dimensions, forms and trends of women´s  war engagement inside the large non-combatant medical staff, data on their social and national origins, their family backgrounds and networks, including the question of comradeship as well as situations of conflict and concurrence.

Secondly, the war accounts of these women will be analysed mainly by focusing on narratives of violence: How, with which patterns, semantics and official war rhetoric did nurses of the Great War, who were confronted with war-related violence in many forms, relate to these experiences in their autobiographical texts - be they published or not? What were the perceptions ascribed to violence and how did they change? Which images of war and the enemy, which pacifist statements were written down or coded, if not silenced?

All in all, Austrian-Hungarian war nurses - in spite of patriotic or apologetic tendencies in their texts - often wrote on violence, suffering and murder, the nameless passing away in the Great War. Their texts therefore can be read, in a paradoxical way, as an attempt to inscribe their war experiences into (always gendered) hegemonic war interpretations and legitimizations on the one hand, and individual accusations of mass killing in modern Europe on the other.
A special interest of the project also lays in the attempt to link and compare its results with the dense research on war nurses of other belligerent countries, mainly those stationed at the Western Front in France and Belgium: Which similarities of female engagement and experience of total war can be stated, and how have we to explain apparent differences?