Researching Modern Military Medical History

Martin Bricknell, David Vassallo

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Military healthcare in war has many differences from civilian peacetime healthcare. War may lead to substantial advances in military health systems and clinical practices. However, there is historical evidence of a loss of collective knowledge between wars. This may result in lower survival rates and poorer clinical outcomes for the first cohorts of casualties in the next war compared to the last cohorts of casualties from the previous war. The next generation neglects the lessons of its forebears at its peril. Studying military medical history should be much more than just an interpretation of advances in clinical care by military health practitioners and should include an interpretation of the wider social and cultural contexts that influenced change in military health systems in peace and during war.
This paper provides readers with signposts to key sources of information to facilitate their personal study of modern military medical history, specifically the twentieth and early 21st centuries, as part of their professional development, whether they be military health practitioners or historians. This time period was chosen because important lessons learned here are most likely to be of direct relevance to military health practitioners and their patients in current or near-future wars. The paper then signposts an approach to analysing the history of organisational developments and clinical developments in modern military medicine by highlighting topics to be considered when reviewing the historical narrative. It closes by discussing how studying military medical history can inform the personal learning of historians and military health professionals and considers how they might share these insights. The Appendix lists Sources and Resources for the study of modern military medical history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)278-295
Number of pages17
JournalTopics in the History of Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2023


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