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The eye-witness account and the personal memoir offer powerful ways of exploring the human legacy of overwhelming historical events on individual lives. But how do literary genres like the memoir and autobiography manage to speak about unspeakable topics, how do they represent the unrepresentable and write about trauma? What is the function, and what the effect, of writing memory for the victim, for the reader, and for the perpetrator? How do the offspring of the victims and perpetrators "remember" their parents" traumas and shape memories of events they have only experienced second-hand? What is the relationship between fiction and memory in memoir writing and how do we read a testimonial of a Holocaust survivor that has been faked? This subject will introduce students to a selection of testimonial writing and films that tell individual stories of a shameful national past. It explores the effect of generic convention on the relation of history and memory, and the need for generic invention to speak trauma and tell the un-tellable. Its focus will be on the Holocaust, the Algerian War, and life under Eastern bloc communist regimes. This subject will focus on writing from France, Germany, and Italy in the first instance, but may from time to time include writing from other parts of Europe.
Intended learning outcomes
On successful completion of this subject, students should:
- be able to engage critically with different perspectives on European histories of violence and their genres and forms;
- be able to communicate knowledge effectively about Europe’s present and past, and its traditions in oral and well-informed written assignments;
- demonstrate a detailed knowledge of memoir and memory writing about traumatic pasts in 20th century Europe;
- be able to consolidate research skills in the constituent disciplines of European memory studies, trauma studies and Holocaust studies and learn to contextualise;
- demonstrate a broad understanding of the impact of Europe’s histories of violence in relation to second and third generation writing about the past and from the Americas and Australasia;
- have acquired broad critical insights through their engagement with Europe that prepare them for becoming good global citizens;
- be able to work effectively in groups to meet a shared goal with people whose disciplinary and cultural backgrounds differ from their own.
At the completion of this subject, students should:
- have enhanced their understanding of texts through reference to existing scholarship;
- appreciate the cultural complexity of issues that circulate in the popular media;
- be able to identify and explore issues across texts from different contexts;
- be able to engage critically with texts in oral presentation;
- be able to interpret in writing the meaning of literature with attention to social context and language.
Last updated: 8 August 2023