If one practical way to define trauma is to consider it as a chronic inability to access and process catastrophic events, that is, as a systematic and haunting blockage of memory formation and reclamation of past experiences, then historians have an inherent stake in the concept. This basic observation is not new, of course, but until now only historians of the Holocaust have evinced serious and consistent interest in the vast literature on Trauma Studies. Most historians—for example those who work with the distant past, with non-Western societies, or with less extreme historical events—have not had to engage with the historical implications of trauma. In as much as historians use the term, they do so from the lay standpoint that considers trauma as a horrible and tragic man-made event or a natural disaster. In its popular and very elastic usage the event (trauma) and its consequences (always “traumatic”) run the risk of remaining unexplored and largely unexplained, and thus, paradoxically, actually traumatic in the sense of not allowing access to the past. While remaining cognizant of the bland usage of the concept of trauma, the goal of this special issue is to offer a modest commentary on what Trauma Studies can offer to “Other Historians” and, perhaps, on what they can offer in return. The work presented here is of a provisional nature and is the product of a year-long seminar by a diverse group of historians at the Institute of Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the international conference, “Trauma and History,” that they organized.
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