The Laurier Military History Speaker Series has been running for twenty-five years and is part our mandate to make the latest scholarship in Canadian military history available to the public in an accessible format. The Series runs each Fall and Winter, featuring a total of six historians throughout the calendar year. Events are hosted at 232 King St. N, Waterloo, ON. Admission is FREE.
The LCMSDS has also partnered with the Guelph Civic Museum to present the Guelph Military Lecture Series. The Guelph Civic Museum is located at 52 Norfolk St., Guelph. Admission is by donation.
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Winter 2019 Lineup
Wilson T. Bell, “Stalin’s Gulag at War”
Laurier Military History Speaker Series, Jan. 9th, 7:00pm at the LCMSDS
What was the Gulag’s role in Soviet victory in the Second World War? In his talk, Bell will trace the history of Stalin’s notorious prison camps during a time when prisoners died at extraordinarily high rates. He will discuss the myriad responses of both prisoners and personnel to the war, the ways in which the state mobilized labour, and the illicit and condoned interactions between prisoners and non-prisoners. Ultimately, prisoners played a tangible role in Soviet mobilization, but at an incredibly high cost––a cost that highlights the tragedy of the Stalinist system at the moment of its greatest triumph.
Wilson T. Bell is an assistant professor of history and politics at Thompson Rivers University (PhD, UofT, 2011). He is the author of numerous articles on the Gulag, and his first book, Stalin’s Gulag at War, was published in 2018 with the University of Toronto Press.
Amy Milne-Smith, “Before Shell Shock”
Guelph Military Lecture Series, Jan. 17th, 7:00pm at the Guelph Civic Museum
Looking at contemporary ideas of insanity and the potential dangers for men at war from the Crimea to the Boer War provides an important context to the voluminous literature on battle fatigue and the First World War. However, any attempt to “find” examples shell shock or PTSD in the nineteenth-century archive is an ill-fated search. Doctors often failed to determine or record the cause of patients’ insanity, and they did not have a vocabulary of trauma. Rather than trying to fit Victorian ideas of lunacy into later diagnostic categories, in this talk I will examine how contemporary military and civilian doctors diagnosed, classified, and treated mentally ill servicemen returning from war on their own terms. These narratives reveal deep anxieties about the potential for British men to maintain their sanity, and their manhood, in Imperial spaces.
Amy Milne-Smith is a British historian and Associate Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and is a Faculty Associate at the Laurier Centre for Military and Strategic Disarmament Studies. She received her PhD from the University of Toronto and her first book, London Clubland, details the inner life of the gentlemen’s clubs of London. She is currently finishing a book entitled Madmen in the Attic. This talk comes out of her next project exploring nineteenth century British military psychiatry.
Linda Quiney, “Nursing for Victory? Canada’s Volunteer Nurses in the First Wold War”
Laurier Military History Speaker Series, Feb. 6th, 7:00pm, at the LCMSDS
Some 2,000 Canadian and Newfoundland women enlisted as Voluntary Aid Detachment, or VAD, nurses during the First World War, serving as auxiliary nurses in homefront and British military hospitals overseas. Undertaking the only ‘active service’ work open to women without nursing qualifications, the VADs often saw themselves more as soldiers on the wards than real nurses, but at times felt acutely aware of their amateur status. “Nursing for Victory?” examines the history, work, and experience of this shadow army of women who helped to fill a critical gap in the often overwhelmed wartime military medical services.
Linda Quiney is an Affiliate of the Consortium for Nursing History Inquiry at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing. She is the author of This Small Army of Women (2017) as well as a number of articles and chapters on Canadian and Newfoundland women’s wartime voluntary work in support of the military medical services with the St. John Ambulance and Canadian Red Cross.
Kyle Falcon,“Spiritualism and the First World War”
Guelph Military Lecture Series, Feb. 28th, 7:00pm at the Guelph Civic Museum
This talk will focus on British spiritualism, psychical research and the Great War. Spiritualism, which can be defined as the belief in communicating with the dead, usually through the seance, saw a surge of popularity during and after the war. Falcon will focus on the ways in which the British population tried to unite science and religion in the environment of war. Paranormal and spiritualist experiences conflict with contemporary conceptions of the war as a futile and profane event, and the modern world as secular and disenchanted.
Kyle Falcon recently completed his PhD in history at Wilfrid Laurier University. His research interests include war and memory with a specific focus on the First World War, British cultural history, the history of science, and religion and society.
Ted Barris, “Dam Busters: Canadian Airmen and the Secret Raid against Nazi Germany”
Laurier Military History Speaker Series, Mar. 13th, 7:00pm, at the LCMSDS
On May 16, 1943, one hundred and thirty-three airmen took off in Lancaster bombers on a night sortie, code-named “Operation Chastise.” Their targets – the Ruhr River dams whose massive water reservoirs powered Nazi Germany’s military industrial complex. Of the nineteen bombers outbound, eight did not return. Operation Chastise cost the lives of fifty-three airmen, including fourteen Canadians. Of the sixteen RCAF men who survived, seven received military decorations for valour. Barris will recount the dramatic story of these Commonwealth bomber crews tasked with the high-risk operation against an enemy prepared to defend the Fatherland to the death.
Ted Barris is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster. He has written 18 best-selling non-fiction books, including Victory at Vimy and Breaking the Silence. His 17th book, The Great Escape: A Canadian Story, won the 2014 Libris Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award. Barris is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Ted Glenn, “Riding into Battle”
Guelph Military Lecture Series, Mar. 28th, 7:00pm at the Guelph Civic Museum
The story of Canadian Cyclists in the Great War is largely unknown. Drafted between 1914 and 1916, these troops spent most of the war digging trenches, patrolling roads, and delivering dispatches. Based on personal diaries, memoirs, and newspaper accounts, the lecture addresses the Cyclists’ early war experience as they learned and applied their unique skill sets for the first time in manoeuvres in and around Toronto, long before their historic contributions to the Hundred Days campaign at the end of the War.
A professor at Humber College since 2002, Ted Glenn will be publishing Riding into Battle: Canadian Cyclists in the Great War with Dundurn Press later this year.
Ellin Bessner, “‘A Score to Settle with Hitler’: Canada’s Jewish Military Fighters in World War II”
Military History Speaker Series, Apr. 3rd,
Nearly 40 percent of all eligible Jewish Canadian men served in the Second World War. They fought in all of the major battles, from Dunkirk to Normandy, Hong Kong to Ortona, and in the liberation of Holland. Yet unlike their comrades of other religions, they faced a double threat: they served at great personal risk, should they be captured by the enemy, and their religious identities be uncovered. As Bessner will explain, Canadian Jews volunteered for this war not only for patriotism but also to save their Jewish brethren from the Nazi’s Final Solution to annihilate the Jewish people.
Ellin Bessner is a veteran Canadian journalist based in Toronto. Her career has taken her around the world, working for CTV News and CBC News, and also stringing for the Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press and other new organizations. In 2018, she published her first book, Double Threat with University of Toronto Press, based on the experiences of Canadian Jewish servicemen during the Second World War.
For details on our previous speakers, click here.