We are delighted to announce our two keynote speakers: Professor Laura Salisbury (University of Exeter) and Dr Roderick Bailey (University of Oxford).


Laura Salisbury is an Associate Professor in Medicine and English Literature at the University of Exeter, where she is also the Director of Postgraduate Research. She is a co-investigator on the AHRC-funded network Modernism, Medicine and the Embodied Mind, with Ulrika Maude at the University of Bristol and Elizabeth Barry at the University of Warwick. Laura has written extensively on modernism, science, and the body, and on the playwright Samuel Beckett in particular. Her monograph Samuel Beckett: Laughing Matters, Comic Timing was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2012. She is currently finishing a second book entitled Aphasic Modernism: Revolutions of the Word, which explores the relations between modernism, modernity, and early twentieth-century neuroscientific conceptions of language. Another project on Slow Modernism is also underway.

Laura’s keynote paper is entitled “Waiting Machines: Anticipation, Threat, and Embodiment in the Lived Time of World War II”

“This paper analyses how World War II shaped, contained, and shifted embodied experiences of waiting, reconceptualising their relationships to broader ideas of lived time. While the trench warfare of World War I has often been imagined as a limit experience of waiting in modernity – Henri Barbusse described these soldiers as ‘waiting machines’, while Eugene Minkowski shaped a theory of psychopathologies of lived time in relation to the anxious anticipations of life in the trenches – World War II produced experiences of waiting in which the body was exposed to the threat and anticipation of annihilation, in civilian as well as military populations. As a result, waiting became reconfigured in relation to what Paul Saint-Amour has recently called the embodied threat of ‘total war’. This paper analyses representations of waiting drawn from Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen and Kurt Vonnegut, alongside materials in the Mass Observation Archive, to develop an account of how exposure to a future that imagined the potential imminence of embodied annihilation reshaped civilian and medical attitudes to experiences of durational temporality. It also reads this shift in a sense of temporal belonging alongside the emergence of psychoanalytic accounts of time that develop from Wilfred Bion’s work with groups at the Northfield Military Hospital in Birmingham in 1942. The paper asks how Bion’s development of ideas of psychoanalytic thinking as offering a container for time in which experience might be ‘digested’, in opposition to the psychic defences of ‘evasion by evacuation’, emerges specifically in relation to embodied experiences of ‘total war’.”


Rod Bailey is a Lecturer in the History of Medicine at the University of Oxford. He specialises in the history of modern war and conflict, and his research interests lie primarily in the Second World War, military medicine, unconventional warfare, and the Cold War. As a Wellcome Trust Fellow at Oxford, he completed a study of personnel selection and mental health among British, US, and Australian special forces in wartime Europe and the Pacific. One of his current research projects explores the work of Allied medical officers attached to wartime guerrilla movements, while another explores the participation of medical practitioners in the handling and interrogation of ‘high value’ military prisoners. His recent publications include Target: Italy: The Secret War Against Mussolini 1940-1943 (Faber & Faber 2014). He has worked in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Africa as an official monitor of international elections for the European Union and OSCE, and has also served with the British Army in Afghanistan.

Rod’s keynote paper is entitled  “Special Operations: Plastic Surgery and Disguise in World War II”.

“Drawing on recently declassified records in British and American files, this article is an in-depth study of a long-hidden feature of wartime medicine: the deliberate modification of bodies for the purposes of disguise. More specifically, it explores how Britain’s Special Operations Executive – the principal Allied organisation engaged in encouraging resistance and carrying out sabotage in Occupied Europe – employed professional plastic surgeons to alter the appearance of agents assigned to dangerous missions in enemy territory. Today, records reveal not only the nature of the work done but also the range of reasons for which surgery was recommended: from a need to disguise the identity of agents earmarked to return to countries where their identities might be recognised, to concerns that the faces of Jewish agents conformed too much to stereotype. While illustrating the lengths to which Allied agents were prepared to go in order to ensure their survival and contribute to the Allied war effort, the article also discusses the ethics of body modification for the purposes of waging war: arguably, such surgery was located more in the field of weapons development than in the field of healthcare, and may have placed agents with disguised bodies in an awkward position legally if captured.”