About this initiative: Trauma, Memory, and Representations of the Past: Transforming scholarship in the Humanities and the Arts

How do societies characterised by a history of mass violence work through their traumatic past? In the aftermath of gross human rights violations and genocide, and when people have suffered collective trauma, how does the trauma play out in subsequent generations, and how might we map out the arc of historical trauma as a nexus for the interweaving of individual and collective traumatic memories?

This initiative will engage a deeper analysis of the complex matrix of the interacting factors of historical trauma and its intergenerational consequences in post-apartheid South Africa. Our focus on an area of such profound social relevance goes to the heart of the issues at the forefront of contemporary debates about historical trauma, its expression in memory and other symbolic forms of expression such as violence. While focused on the South African context, however, the inquiry speaks to global questions of the transmission of traumatic memory in the aftermath of historical trauma, dealing with the past,and the possibility of breaking intergenerational cycles of historical trauma.

While these goals reflect an academic, i.e., an explicitly research oriented focus, the project is, however, also inspired by issues that go beyond scholarly pursuits, and reflects our concern about the realities of mass violence and its disruptive effects in the contemporary world. To this end, this initiative brings the Humanities into dialogue with the Arts – the performing arts and other art forms. This engagement with the arts in this initiative offers an important model for new, interdisciplinary research that we believe can help forge new avenues of knowledge production.

Trauma, Memory, and Representations of the Past: Transforming scholarship in the Humanities and the Arts is an initiative led by Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. The initiative was established at the University of the Free State in February 2015, and is now based at Stellenbosch University.

The initiative addresses critical questions about historical trauma and its effects on individuals and society. The initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach and spurs a critical conversation between the Humanities and the Arts about the realities facing post-apartheid South Africa.

Goals of the project

The goals of the project include; exploring the interconnected issues of historical trauma, “memory” associated with historical trauma, and intergenerational trauma in the post-apartheid environment; contributing to the development of a future cadre of Black female researchers and scholars.


Objectives of the project

One of the objectives of the project is to bring together leading scholars and emerging researchers in order to stimulate multi-disciplinary collaborative research that will position South Africa as an important site for knowledge production in the field of historical trauma and memory studies.

The Arts & Public Dialogue Inititative

The goal of social science research is to advance one’s discipline within not only the academy, but also having some impact on public debate and influencing audiences at the broader level of civil society. For this reason, our project has a strong public dialogue programme. We draw inspiration from the arts—visual and performance art—and the public dialogue events we will organise will demonstrate the power of the arts as a communicative tool that inspires public conversations about important matters in our social world.

Significance of the project

Beyond the scholarly and capacity support initiatives, the significance of the project is its potential to introduce new conversations about the past and guide productive conversations about what social dialogue about the future looks and sounds like.