The personal writings of First World War nurses: a study of the interplay of authorial intention and scholarly interpretation


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Abstract

The personal writings of First World War nurses and VADs (volunteers) provide the historian with a range of insights into the war and women's nursing roles within it. This paper offers a number of methodological perspectives on these writings. In particular, it emphasises two elements of engagement with texts that can act as important influences on subsequent historical writings: authorial intention and scholarly interpretation. In considering the interplay of these two elements, the paper emphasises the motivations both of those who produced primary sources and of those who later used them to ‘serve’ particular historical interpretations. The paper examines letters, diaries and semi-fictional writings, considering the influences of gender, class and professional background on the ways in which their authors wrote. It then briefly considers the uses to which historians have put these original writings. The paper offers insights into the ways in which complex personal writings can be interpreted and concludes that the writings of First World War nurses and volunteers offer a rich and varied set of perspectives on both the war itself and the nature of wartime nursing work.

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