NeMLA 2019 Panel: The Future of Trauma Studies

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association

This pre-approved panel seeks scholars to present at the 2019 NeMLA conference (March 21-24 in Washington, DC) on the topic of trauma studies.

Panel Description:

Within literary trauma theory, no critic is more ubiquitous than Cathy Caruth whose seminal works—Unclaimed Experience (1996) and Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995)—remain hegemonic more than two decades since their publication. Drawing on the work of psychiatrists Judith Herman and Bessel van der Kolk, Caruth imagines trauma as an “impossible history” and claims that to listen to trauma is to listen to narrative “departure.” Trauma figures into Caruth’s work as silence—a force strong enough to cause language to fail.

However, more recent psychological studies, such as those documented by Richard McNally in Remembering Trauma (2003), suggest that trauma may not be so indescribable—that these histories are, in fact, possible and may actually be some of our most memorable and vivid. Especially with the proliferation of trauma narratives produced by the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, it seems harder to claim that the stories of survivors can’t be told and more likely that their perceived silence has been generated by systemic forms of oppression. If it’s true that trauma can take shape beyond silence, or that silence stems from more than a strictly psychological response, what does this mean for the future of trauma studies in literature?

This panel seeks innovative scholarly work that analyzes the ways we write and interpret traumatic narratives. Questions to consider may include: How does trauma transfer to the page? What forces—psychological, social, political, etc.—determine what can and can’t be said? How have our depictions of trauma and theories of its interpretation changed over time and/or across space? What does the future of trauma theory hold? Papers may address trauma (broadly defined) as it appears across time periods, nations, and genres.

Please direct any questions to the panel chair, Sarah Hildebrand, via email ( or Twitter (@smhildebrand)

Finalized abstracts can be submitted at: