Historical Trauma and Memory: Living with the Haunting Power of the Past (An Interdisciplinary Symposium, Kigali, Rwanda)



I was pleased to present research, participate, and help organize this Interdisciplinary Symposium with esteemed scholars from South Africa, Zimbabwe, DRC, Germany, Slovakia, and Rwanda, which took place from 4-6 April in Kigali, Rwanda. It was hosted by the Research Chair in Historical Trauma and Transformation (Stellenbosch University), in Collaboration with the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP; Rwanda), the Centre for Ethics (University of Zürich), and the Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit (University of South Africa; South African Medical Research Council), hosted an Interdisciplinary Conference in Rwanda.

Healing the traumatic wounds and divisions of societies in the aftermath of mass violence and conflict, and the problem of the transmission of historical trauma across generations—these are probably the most urgent questions of the 21st century. Few topics stake a more compelling claim on Humanities and Social Sciences research than the legacies of tragic historical pasts—the impact of genocide, colonial oppression and other mass atrocities not only on individuals and groups that experienced the traumas directly, but also on their descendants, and the descendants of perpetrators and implicated others under oppressive regimes. This international symposium brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and young researchers working in the area of historical trauma, and aims to promote comparative and transnational research on the transgenerational hauntings of historical trauma. Scholars will examine the connection between historical trauma and memory, and illuminate how this relationship has been represented in different cultural contexts, and how it plays out in the lives of descendants of victims of genocide and other forms of political violence in societies that have a history of gross human rights violations. Taking a multidisciplinary approach (including film and literature), the symposium aims to set an agenda for exploring new intellectual frontiers within the buzzing hub of scholarly debates on historical trauma. Its objective is to deepen understanding of the transgenerational repercussions of traumatic pasts in a range of cultural contexts, to explore how different disciplines represent this transgenerational phenomenon, and through a comparative lens, to contribute to new knowledge production in this area of research. Our starting point is that engaging in this comparative reflection is more essential than ever, to advance scholarship and to create a new archive in an area dominated for far too long by the Holocaust as a reference point for understanding the long-term impact of genocide and other forms of gross human rights violations.


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