Memory Wars: Cultural Trauma and the Power of Literature





Nicole A. Suetterlin (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 63L 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

How do we respond to a traumatic event? Denial, acceptance, blame, reconciliation—there are many stances we can take toward a harmful act we have suffered or committed in the past. When entire populations have suffered or perpetrated crimes against humanity, the question of how to deal with this traumatic past can spark a full-blown memory warsuch as the one raging in the U.S. right now over Confederate monuments. such as the one raging in the U.S. right now over Confederate monuments. In this seminar, we explore how the catastrophic events of World War II, slavery, and apartheid affect the way we think and act as individuals, groups and citizens today. What power do literature and the arts have in bringing peace to a society at war with its past? Our diverse spectrum of materials includes: acclaimed American, German, and South African writers such as Toni Morrison, Paul Celan, and Sindiwe Magona; human rights philosopher Hannah Arendt; comedian Trevor Noah; and civil rights lawyer and Harvard Law School graduate Bryan Stevenson, who has been fighting racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system for the past three decades. Topics include: literature about the Holocaust, slavery, and apartheid; Germany’s and South Africa’s recent “ethical turn” in memory culture; reconciliation and reparation; mass incarceration; punitive vs. restorative justice; social justice.


See also: Fall 2020