From April 16 through June 20th 2015, the University of Liverpool’s School of Arts, and the School of Histories, Languages and Cultures, will host the U.S. National Library of Medicine travelling exhibition: Life and Limb: the Toll of the American Civil War.

Life and Limb explores the experience of physical trauma and disability suffered by those who fought in the American Civil War. Over three million soldiers went to war, more than three quarters of a million soldiers died, and as many again were left as wounded survivors in the war’s aftermath.

The lives of soldiers and civilians have been irrevocably changed by all modern wars, and the need to support soldiers injured in combat has also driven and transformed the development of artificial limbs, trauma surgery and prosthetics.

Life and Limb draws on all these themes, historical and modern, to show both the terrible price of armed conflict, but also how medicine and public health always receive a massive stimulus from war. The materials presented in the exhibition demonstrate many different aspects and perspectives on war and medicine, from the technological to the literary, and from the psychological to the artistic.

The core exhibition focuses on the experiences of ordinary soldiers, the physical traumas they suffered, the treatment they received, and how they coped with the lasting mental and physical scars of the Civil War, along with the medical advances and benefits that arose from these terrible injuries, and which continue to benefit veterans and civilians today. The exhibits reveal how rehabilitative medicine developed out of the conflict and gave the seriously wounded hope and future life opportunities. Artificial-limb manufacturers, such as the company founded by Confederate soldier James Edward Hanger (the first recorded amputee of the war), offered disabled veterans a means of adapting to their injuries and enabling their social and economic re-integration

During this – the final sesquicentennial year of the American Civil War – the University of Liverpool will be the only international showing of the landmark exhibition: Life and Limb.

#19 Abercromby Square, which will be hosting the travelling exhibition, has direct links to medical innovators and to the American Civil War, being the former home of Confederate financier and merchant Charles Kuhn Prioleau who arranged the five day grand bazaar at St George’s Hall for the relief of wounded and imprisoned Confederate soldiers.

  • On April 21st 2015, there will be a launch event – a ‘First Encounter’  – opened by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Janet Beer, and showcasing the scholarship of Professor Robert L. Davis (Wittenberg University), exploring the poetry and Civil War nursing experiences of Walt Whitman; Professor Mick Gidley from the (University of Leeds) analysing Civil War photography; and Professor Susan-Mary Grant (Newcastle University) examining surgery, disability and memories of the Civil War.
  • Alongside the exhibition, a companion book will be published through Liverpool University Press: Life and Limb: Perspectives on the American Civil War. This publication complements the U.S. NLM exhibition, and offers examples of the diverse medical writing that was produced during the American Civil War and in its aftermath. The volume combines period documents – including an extensive range of visual sources – and recollections, with critical essays by scholars of the Civil War, health and medical history, Whitman studies and photography.
  • In addition, we will be showcasing research from staff and students at the University of Liverpool, alongside physical exhibits, and rare books from our Special Collections and Archives.
  • Bespoke artworks have also been created and will be displayed to show a modern ‘cyberpunk’ perspective on the exhibits.
  • Additional ‘encounter’ events will be staged and announced in due course.

For further details, contact Dr Stephen C. Kenny (Department of History, University of Liverpool)


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