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War, Trauma, Memory and Art

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The John W. Kluge Center and Veterans History Project present "Art from War: Documenting Devastation/Realizing Restoration," a lecture on the role of art therapy for veterans from World War I through current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jan. 22, 201
Larson Fellow Tara Tappert lectures on the history of using the arts to treat wounded veterans of war, from World War I through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, January 22, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Recently Tara Tappert, this year’s David B. Larson Fellow in Health and Spirituality, gave her final presentation at the Kluge Center. Her lecture was titled “Art from War: Documenting Devastation/Realizing Restoration.” The presentation was, as are all presentations by post-doctoral and senior scholars, open to the public and there was a substantial audience there to learn more about artistic approaches to the experiences of war trauma. The presentation was recorded both by the Library and by C-SPAN’s American History TV.  You can watch it here.

I would like to tell you more about an internal workshop Tara organized for the Kluge Center a month before her public talk. A number of the Fellows at the Kluge Center were researching topics that bordered on hers: themes overlapped although the researchers involved were drawing from several different disciplines. It is this coming together from different directions that makes scholarship here at the Kluge Center lively.

The title of the workshop, which took place on December 9, 2014, was “War, Trauma, Memory and Art.” The participants brought together both a cross-disciplinary and an international view on the topic. Tara chaired the event, which included her own presentation on “Art Making as a Transformational Process for War Trauma.” The other panel discussants and their topics were:

  • Elia Corazza, Scholar-Musicologist from Italy, “Italian Musical Composers between the First and Second World Wars”
  • Thomas Dodman, Assistant Professor of History at Boston College, “Nostalgia and the Napoleonic Wars”
  • Bradford Lee, the Center’s current Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations, who discussed the topic from the perspective of a military historian
  • Maria MacLennan, doctoral candidate from the University of Dundee, “The Forensic Use of Jewelry in Identifying Those Lost during 9/11 and on the Titanic”
  • Peter Zilahy, Scholar-Novelist from Hungary, “The Roll of Humor and Story Telling under Conditions of Trauma and Repression”

The discussion ranged from the early seventeenth century diagnosis of battlefield “nostalgia” to today’s healing of trauma (in its many and varied forms) through artistic expression and humor. My hope in writing this blog is that you will get an idea of the conversations that happen at the Kluge Center as scholars from different disciplines and different nations (researching different topics in various disciplines and across an array of time periods) come together in a collaborative exchange.

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