Projects on Trauma, History, & Memory


New book Project:

I have just submitted a proposal to a publisher for my next eited book. I have a large international roster of scholars lined up to contribute to the book. Here is an extract from the proposal:

The Ethics of Remembering and the Consequences of Forgetting: Essays on Trauma, History and Memory 


Contributors to this book are distinguished writers and researchers from a variety of international backgrounds and theoretical and disciplinary perspectives as detailed in the biographical statements accompanying the abstracts below.

Overview and rationale for the book:

The core organizing concept for this book is the relationship between history and memory, and particularly the complexity of that relationship when displacement, war, genocide, or other catastrophic events sever social linkages, and disrupt the social bonds that are the glue that provides continuity between generations. Sociologist Kai Erikson described the catastrophic social consequences of what he termed “lack of communality” when a mining town in Virginia was forcibly dispersed after a major pollution incident; Davoine and Gaudillière speak of the grave consequences of the severance of what they term “social linkages” and Jonathan Lear speaks of the extermination of hope that comes with the annihilation of the subjectivity of a people. Memory is quite paradoxical. We know from Holocaust studies, for example, that many Holocaust survivors have worked strenuously to enforce silence in their belief that this would prevent the toxicity of their pain and suffering from passing down the generations. Yet we also know that many Jews found purpose in surviving so that their stories would live as testimony to Hitler’s genocidal enterprise. The irony is further compounded, as the epigraph of Davoine and Gaudillière’s book – whereof one cannot speak thereof one cannot stay silent – underlines, in that which we seek to repress finds expression in both individual symptoms and potentially in the character that an entire group of people or nation assumes. My own writing as well as that of psychiatrist Garrett O’Connor suggests that some of the characterological aspects of the Irish psyche, for example, may originate in the earlier traumas Irish people suffered under British colonial rule, particularly including the catastrophic Great Hunger of the 1840s.

Despotic leaders understand the stakes all too well. Slobodan Milsoevic, for example, stoked primal fears among Serbians by evoking a humiliating defeat that the Serbs incurred at the Battle of Serbia in 1390. Despots [and perhaps all governments?] also go to elaborate lengths to bury troublesome memories and sometimes to make disappear those who would deign to exhume the skeletons of unruly bodies. The Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Oscar Romero and so many others serve as eloquent witness to the risks of recuperating dangerous memory and speaking truth to power.

The writers in this book, then, are concerned with many different aspects of the complex relationship between trauma, history and memory. Some are interested in probing the ethics of memory; some are interested in exploring the remnants of history and in documenting erasures and silences; some are interested in biographical and autobiographical remnants; some are interested in documenting the sociohistorical consequences of those silences; some are interested in illustrating the relationship between past trauma and the current life-chances of whole communities and peoples; some are interested in intervention at community level; and some are interested in the mechanisms by which a fit of madness or some other catastrophic symptom in our own time can be a manifestation of ghostly forebears seeking voice and reparation.

Ultimately this book is an inquiry into the ethical consequences of forgetting and the ethical and human imperatives involved in seeking to recuperate memory, honor lives, bear witness to suffering, and refuse to acquiesce to mechanisms of silencing.     

Contribution to scholarship:

The scholars included in this work have been chosen because their work is either at the forefront of theoretical interdisciplinary work in this area, in the forefront of field research, or in the forefront of interventional work. The intention is to produce a book that will be at the leading edge of scholarly inquiry at the intersection of trauma, history, and memory. It could be considered a project to restore voices too long silenced.

Primary audience:

This book will be of interest to scholars and graduate students with interdisciplinary interest in trauma, historical memory, and cultural understandings of mental wellness and illness in fields such as trauma studies, history, anthropology,  literary theory, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, clinical psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and indigenous studies.


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