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'Conversations in Veterans Studies' online symposium

May 18, 2021


The 2020 Veterans in Society conference, "Veteran Identity, Advocacy, and Representation," hosted by our friends at the University of Missouri-St Louis under the auspices of the newly founded Veterans Studies Association, would have been held in March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced its cancellation. 

VSA and Virginia Tech collaborated to host a free, online symposium, "Conversations in Veterans Studies," a year later to reengage, reconnect, and sustain our community until we could meet again safely in person.  The event was built around what would have been the St Louis conference's keynote roundtable session on Willard Waller's (1944) influential book, The Veteran Comes Back


Between ViS events we encourage you to contribute your ideas about research on veterans in society through the Veterans Studies Conference Group on Facebook.

Available as free ebook at Internet Archive:

Dustjacket of book showing a soldier in uniform in front of a stereotypical outcast man

Recording on YouTube:

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Keynote roundtable:
Waller’s 'The Veteran Comes Back' at 77

This is a formal, panel event. Panelists include VSA & ViS board members. Following the panel, please enjoy a 15-minute screen break.

Description: For three-quarters of a century, Willard Waller’s (1944) historical sociology of veterans has been paradigmatic for American public understanding of veterans in society. Waller published his book to help the public better understand the vast numbers of veterans who would soon be returning from WWII. Seventy-seven years later, Waller’s book is better understood as a siren call alerting America that it was unprepared for the tasks it faced then, and, perhaps for those it continues to face now: “If we choose to go to war we must be willing to take the responsibility of compensating its victims. The obligation is clear, unavoidable, and almost limitless.”


This keynote panel will address Waller’s legacy and his book’s adequacy as a guide for the 21st century and address questions such as:

  • What emphases, assumptions, and omissions in Waller’s account should today’s policymakers, scholars, and citizens confront?  

  • Which of his ideas have stood up as bases for inquiry into veteran-society interplay through other interpretive lenses?

  1. Introduction: "Why Waller? Why Now? Context and Significance to Veterans Studies." (Jim Dubinsky, Virginia Tech) Raw video: starts at 7:15.

  2. "Part 1: The Civilian is Made into a Professional Soldier." (Eric Hodges, Longwood University) Raw video: starts at 11:26.

  3. "Part 2: The Soldier-Turned-Veteran Comes Back to an Alien Homeland." (Nancy Dallett, Arizona State University) Raw video: starts at 22:10.

  4. "Part 3: Our Past Attempts—and Failures—to Help the Veteran." (Jim Dubinsky, Virginia Tech) Raw video: starts at 33:57.

  5. "Part 4: Helping the Veteran Adjust to Peacetime Living ." (Jim Craig, University of Missouri-St. Louis) Raw video: starts at 46:29.

  6. Conclusion: "Research Questions for the Future of Work in Veterans Studies: Veteran Comes Back as a Point of Departure for Interpreting Veterans in Society" (Bruce Pencek, Virginia Tech) Raw video: starts at 57:10.

Breakout sessions

This panel will discuss traditional and innovative methodological approaches in empirical research with veteran and military-connected populations (e.g., spouses, intimate partners, children, caregivers). Participants will be invited to share research questions, experiences, and ideas as well as pitch projects in need of feedback and/or collaborators.

  • Speaker 1: Dr. K. Neil Jenkings, Senior Research Associate, Newcastle University (U.K.)

  • Speaker 2: Dr. Marian Eide, Texas A&M University, co-author of After Combat: True War Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan and co-designer of After Combat: The Voices Project (sponsored by the Center of Digital Humanities Research at TAMU)

Moderator: Corrine Hinton


What it means to be a veteran has varied across time, place, policy, and circumstance; yet the term is used liberally and rarely fully understood. This panel will explore some of the complexities of veteran identity as it is understood in current (American) culture, including who gets to “own” the definition, how perceptions of veteran identity are affected by gender, and who is allowed to claim the label.

  • Speaker 1: Steve Wahle, Ph.D. Student, University of South Carolina

  • Speaker 2: Rebecca Burgess, Independent Scholar

  • Speaker 3: Scott Parrott, Ph.D.  University of Alabama

  • Speaker 4: Dale Mathis, Ph.D. student, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Moderator: Jim Craig


This breakout will explore the cultural history of representations (and misrepresentations) of veterans in media (i.e., film, TV, documentaries, news, and social media, music, museums, and memorials). We are particularly interested in mediated interventions in the public history and collective perceptions of the veteran/military culture.

  • Speaker 1: John Valadez, professor of practice and award-winner filmmaker of the documentaries The American Exile and The Longoria Affair

  • Speaker 2: Mac MacDevitt, producer of the My Lai Memorial Exhibit

  • Speaker 3: Becky Seabrook, senior director of guest engagement, The Health Museum

  • Speaker 4: Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Arthur S. DeGroat, Ed.D, spokesperson for the Diavolo Veterans Project

Moderator: Manuel G. Aviles-Santiago


What are the available venues for publishing in and about veterans studies? Who are the publishers behind this work and what are they looking for? Who are the authors in this field and where have they experienced publication success and failure? Is it better to publish outside the field or in it? Come with your questions and leave with answers. This breakout will feature editors, publishers, and authors eager to discuss this exciting topic.

  • Speaker 1: Matt Becker, University of Massachusetts Press

  • Speaker 2: Ben Cooper, Lindenwood University

  • Speaker 3: John Kinder, Oklahoma State University

Moderator: Mariana Grohowski


Patriotism has often been researched within the social sciences and humanities but surprisingly little attention has been paid to the topic of patriotism and military veterans. In this panel, we will focus on that relationship by asking questions such as:

  • Within the veteran community, are there nuanced perspectives on patriotism based upon social, cultural, racial/ethnic, gender, religious or other categories? If so, how have these personal experiences shaped perspectives about patriotism?

  • Is there an unspoken caste among veterans with regard to combat/non-combat status or having served in Special Forces versus traditional units?  How does this affect perceptions of patriotism?

  • Through the lens of veteran studies, does the language and the semiotics associated with American patriotism reveal an evolving body of beliefs regarding American democracy? 

Moderators: Eric Hodges and Bryon Garner 

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Technical producer: Joe Forte, Virginia Tech Publishing, a unit in the University Libraries

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