Languages of Trauma Body/Psyche, Historiography, Traumatology, Visual Media


25-26 November 2016 at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum, Auditorium

Conference abstract

This conference explores the diversity of languages of psychological trauma in comparative cross-national perspectives and in varying socio-cultural contexts. Besides variations in the medical, socio-historical and political conceptualization of individual and/or collective traumas, it will analyze medial-representations, artistic reflections as well as more subjective forms of traumatic experiences and perceptions of the traumatized, including men, women and children—both as victims of mental/emotional damage and as perpetrators of violence.

Moving trauma research towards new sites of inquiry and innovative methodologies, Languages of Trauma concentrates specifically on dynamics and interconnections between language and trauma in audio-visual media, visual culture, national historiographies, medical and political discourse, literary narratives, and the fine arts. Within this broad subject area, the conference speakers will focus on questions of disciplinary terminology, as well as medical aetiology, diagnosis and treatment, and we will ask how different cultures and interest groups – medical professionals, traumatized individuals and communities, patients, families, politicians, artists and academic scholars – shaped distinct notions and conceptions of “trauma.” How do historically shifting and at times competing understandings of trauma alter and transform forms of trauma languages? Particular attention will be given to the question of how “trauma” is displayed in film corpora from various periods of the 20th and 21st centuries (in medical and feature films as well as in documentaries), and their connection to memory politics, national identity constructions and scientific discourse.

Integrating scholarship across nationalities (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, UK, USA) and various disciplines – including film, media and culture studies, medicine, psychology, history, art history, literature and communications, and international political science – the conference investigates the nexus between trauma symptoms, histories, mediality and epistemology.

Languages of Trauma will be thematically organized around different modes of traumatic language. These themes include:

  1. Body language that reflects psychological trauma

  1. Oral or written language of trauma

  1. Acoustic dimensions of knowledge of trauma

  1. Trauma aesthetics and imagery

  1. Audio-visualization of trauma in international film cultures and languages

With an emphasis on interdisciplinary, comparative approaches and inquiry, keynotes and conference panels will include discussion of the following questions:

1. How do medical professionals, traumatized individuals and groups, patients, families, politicians, artists, and academic scholars shape notions of ‘trauma’?

2. How do historically shifting and competing understandings of trauma influence trauma languages?

3. What modes of translation are active within the process of re-actualizing past traumatic events?

4. How do diverse forms of trauma language and representation affect the way in which traumata are conveyed, perceived, re-lived, celebrated, memorialized, or neglected?

5. How does contemporary (pop) culture shape the conceptualization of trauma?


Conference location

Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum, Auditorium, Geschwister-Scholl-Straße 1-3, 10117 Berlin (U6, S1, S3, S6, Haltestelle: Friedrichstraße)

Friday, 25 November

11:30-13:00 Keynote 1Raya Morag (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Communications and Journalism), “Perpetrator Trauma in Current World Cinema”

Chair: Julia B. Köhne (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft)

13:00-14:15 Lunch break

14:15-15:45 Seminar 1Audio-visualization of trauma and history of (psycho)traumatology

Discussion led by: Anne Freese (Humboldt-Universität zu

Berlin, History Department) and Julia B. Köhne (Humboldt-

Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft)

15:45-16:15 Coffee break

16:15-17:45 Seminar 2Trauma aestheticization and imagery

Discussion led by: Maj Hasager (Malmö Art Academy, Critical &

Pedagogical Studies-MFA programme) and Peter Leese (University of Copenhagen, Denmark, Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies)

Film screening: Decembers – narrating history (15 min.)

and scenes from Decembers – a round table conversation

Saturday, 26 November

10:00-11:30 Keynote 2Thomas Elsaesser (University of Amsterdam, Department of Media & Culture), “Trauma and Media: A Question of Reference or Mode of Address?”

Chair: Jason Crouthamel (Grand Valley State University, History


11:30-11:45 Coffee break

11:45-13:15 Seminar 3Speaking in different voices: Oral and written languages of trauma, and interdisciplinary histories of trauma conceptualizations

Discussion led by: Ulrich Koch (The George Washington University, School of Medicine and Health Sciences) and Steven Schouten (European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Florence)

13:15-14:30 Lunch break

14:30-16:30 Keynote 3Agnieszka Piotrowska (University of Bedfordshire, UK, Film Theory and Practice), “(Postcolonial) Trauma, Transgression and Transference”

Film screening and discussion: Lovers in Time (60 min.)

Chair and Introduction: Thomas Elsaesser (University of

Amsterdam, Department of Media & Culture)

16:30-16:45 Coffee break

16:45-18:15 Seminar 4Silences and Corporealities of Trauma

Discussion led by: Ville Kivimäki (University of Tampere,

Finland, School of Social Sciences and Humanities) and Eva Schwark (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


Concept by:

Jason Crouthamel (Grand Valley State University, Michigan)

Julia Barbara Köhne (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Host: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, in cooperation with Grand Valley State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Further information:

Jason Crouthamel (

Julia Barbara Köhne (


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