Michael graduated with a BA Hons in History at Melbourne University, and an MA in History at Monash University, before coming to the UK on a Commonwealth Scholarship in 1985 to begin a PhD. Essex opened up many new vistas. His first book, Masculinity and the British Organization Man since 1945 (Oxford, 1994) was informed by his supervisor Paul Thompson’s work on life stories, memory and generational change, while Leonore Davidoff sparked an interest in the historical study of masculinity which bore early fruit in an edited collection with John Tosh, Manful Assertions. Masculinities in Britain since 1800 (Routledge, 1991). From the late 1990s his interests increasingly moved from gender to the study of psychoanalysis, biography and personal testimony, resulting in a series of methodological articles in History Workshop Journal, Social History and other journals on the historical study of subjectivity and emotions. These interests have coalesced in a series of recent projects exploring aspects of family life and the First World War. His 2009 book, The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War (Manchester) drew on letters, diaries and memoirs to investigate psychological aspects of the conflict in the relationships between young British civilian soldiers and their mothers. Since 2009 his interest centred on the longer-term emotional legacies of the First World War. A project, funded by a British Academy small grant, is investigating the war’s impact on concepts and experiences of childhood in Britain between the wars. He is also undertaking a personal history of the aftermath, looking across the twentieth century and three generations of family life in Australia. Essex is part of the AHRC/HLF First World War Engagement Centre 'Everyday Lives in War. Experience and Memory of the First World War', and during 2015 and 2016 his colleague Rachel Duffett and Michael will be involved in community events related to personal experiences and legacies of the conflict.
The Generation Between: growing up in the aftermath of war, Britain 1918-1939
This research investigates the emotional impact of the First World War on children born in Britain in the 1920s. This was a generation which had no direct experience of the conflict, but whose parents carried its traces in their minds and on their bodies. The project focuses on three aspects of the war’s legacy in relation to children. Firstly, oral history interviews with the children of First World War soldiers, now aged in their late 80s and 90s was undertaken. Secondly, investigations in how ‘experts’ in child psychology, psychoanalysis and child guidance perceived the war’s effects on children. Thirdly, Rachel Duffett is investigating the war’s legacy in interwar children’s’ culture, particularly through toys. Our objective is to reconstruct, through family life, ‘expert’ opinion and children’s culture, the various ways in which the First World War inhabited the lives of the successor generation.
The project has received funding from the British Academy and is linked to the AHRC/HLF First World War Engagement Centre at the University of Hertfordshire, 'Everyday Lives in War. Experience and Memory of the First World War'
A video lecture on the research, 'Growing up in the aftermath: Childhood and family relationships between the wars', is available from the British Psychological Society
The Secret Battle. Emotional Survival in the Great War, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2009. See below for commentaries
Edited with T.G. Ashplant and G.Dawson, Commemorating War: The Politics of Memory,Transaction Publishers, New Jersey, 2004.
Masculinity and the British Organization Man Since 1945, ,Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994, pp. ix-259
Edited with J.Tosh, Manful Assertions. Masculinities in Britain since 1800, Routledge, London, 1991, pp. x-221.
'The Unconscious Work of History’, Cultural and Social History, 2014, Vol. 11, no. 2, 2014, pp. 169-94
'Psychoanalysis and the making of history’ in S. Foot and N. Partner (ed), Sage Handbook of Historical Theory (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2012), pp. 311-325.
'The “spear head of an advance”: Wilfred Bion’s wartime letters to John Rickman’, Psychoanalysis and History, 14, 1 (2012), pp. 95-109.
‘Beyond Containing: World War I and the Psychoanalytic Theories of Wilfred Bion’, in S. Alexander and B. Taylor, History and Psyche. Culture, Psychoanalysis, and the Past, (Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan: 2012), pp. 129-147
‘Nostalgia as an emotional experience in the Great War’, The Historical Journal, 54, 2 (2011), pp. 421-451.
'Between the Psyche and the Social: masculinity, subjectivity and the First World War Veteran', Journal of Men's Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall 2007.
'Between manliness and masculinity: the 'war generation' and the psychology of fear in Britain, 1914-1970', Journal of British Studies, Vol 44, no. 2, April 2005, pp. 343-363.
'Slipping out of view: subjectivity and emotion in gender history', History Workshop Journal, Vol. 59, Spring 2005, pp. 57-73.
'Maternal relations: moral manliness and emotional survival in letters home during the First World War', in S. Dudink, K. Hagermann and J. Tosh (eds), Masculinity in Politics and War: Rewritings of Modern History, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2004, pp. 295-315, re-published in J. Scott (ed), Documentary Research, Vol. II, Sage, London 2005.
'Analysing the analysed: transference and counter-transference in the oral history encounter', Oral History,Vol. 31, no. 2, Autumn 2003, pp. 20-33.
'Children, Veterans and Domesticity in Britain after the Great War’, Annual History of Emotions Lecture, Queen Mary College, November 2014
'Growing up in the aftermath: Childhood and family relationships between the wars', British Psychological Society conference 'Stories of War, 'November 2014
‘Subjectivities in the aftermath’, Monash University, Australia, September 2014
Roundtable, 'War. An Emotional History' conference, British Academy, July 2014
'Child Psychology in Britain between the Wars', Georg Eckert Institute, Braunschweig, January 2014
Keynote lecture, Commemorating the Disabled Soldier, Ypres/University of Leuven, November 2013
‘The psychological legacy of World War I for children’, Emotions and Violence in 20th Century Europe, Max Planck Institute, Berlin, June 2013
‘Subjectivities in the aftermath: the ‘generation between’ in Britain, 1920-45’, Keynote address, Aftershock: post-traumatic cultures since the First World War, University of Copenhagen, May 2013
'The Nervous Child and the Shell-shocked Soldier: child psychology in the aftermath of war, Britain 1920-35', Psychoanalysis in the Age of Totalitarianism conference, September 2012
‘The Unconscious Work of Social History’, Keynote address, Making sense of past emotions: a seminar on the History of Emotions, University of Copenhagen, May 2012
‘Wilfred Bion and the ‘Nameless dread’ of trench warfare’, Public Lecture, British Psychoanalytical Society, Applied Section, November 2011
Media and public events (follow hyperlinks for content)
BBC World Service programme, ‘The Psychology of War’, 30 July 2014
Interview with Rose Spikerman, Historica Journal, Vol. 37, no. 3, September 2014
Interview with Shaul Bar-Haim, Journal of Maternity Studies, December 2012 (PDF available on hyperlink)
Psychoanalysis and History podcast seminar, Institute of Historical Research, Roundtable discussion of Michael Roper's The Secret Battle: Emotional Survival in the Great War (Manchester, 2009) , Peter Barham, Deborah Thom (Robinson College, Cambridge), Sally Alexander (chair, Goldsmiths, University of London), with a response by Michael Roper, December 2009
BBC Radio 4, ‘Thinking Allowed’, 9th September 2009, discussion of The Secret Battle with Joanna Bourke