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Tulane/Cambridge Conference V

Moving on: Memory and Trauma in History

A conference co-sponsored by Tulane University and the University of Cambridge, in association with the Centre d'Études Nord-Américaines of l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Tulane University
New Orleans, LA
October 21-24, 2009


Conference Description

Post-Katrina New Orleans today is a fascinating site for all those interested in examining in real time how civil society regroups after a deadly blow to all of its systems. It is not accidental that New Orleanians themselves often understand the challenges of reconstruction in medical terms. They mournfully compare their city immediately after the storm with a patient on life support, whose survival hangs by a thread. Now, three years after the storm, the patient still remains in intensive care. It is this dramatic physical, social, and political environment that makes a historical reconsideration of trauma, memory, healing and moving on in past and present societies so urgent for us. What enables a society to recover from disaster originating from the Atlantic slave trade, genocide, total war or the indifference of governments? Who and what provides the "life support" for future generations? What lessons can be drawn from comparing the recovery of a wide range of societies from widely different continents and historical contexts?

In trauma studies, it has been acknowledged that speech acts or narrative memory serve as one of the most effective ways in which a suffering individual can be unlocked from the trauma of the past. Historians today, less concerned with individual than with collective bodies, continue to explore memory as the relationship between the past and the present, a relationship that manifests itself most visibly in a continuously changing collective culture. What, however, if societies have not been able to forge a discursive bridge between past and present? What if the trauma of a violent past event has only been deepened by the violence of "false memory"? When are societies able to "use" their past to master the present? Which pasts are usable and which are not? Dos every destructive event also represent a new beginning? These are just some of the questions this international conference aims to address.

We plan to cluster scholarship from a wide variety of geographic and disciplinary contexts around a number of central themes. We are particularly interested in working out both the similarities and differences of historic moments over a time span of several centuries, moments that have been rarely understood as related to one another.