Field: Twentieth-Century American Literature (“the long twentieth century”)
Focus: Health Humanities / Trauma Studies
My research focuses on American literature in “the long twentieth century,” which spans from 1865 through the twentieth century and includes contemporary literature as well. I am most interested, however, in the ways in which this literature intersects with health humanities and literary trauma studies. The postbellum era marks the earliest studies of hysteria and what would later be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the twentieth century (continuing into the new millennium and to today) marks one of the most violent epochs in human history, a highly relevant source for a continued interrogation of the intersections between health, trauma, and American literature. Overall, I am interested in issues of embodiment and representation, the intersections between literature and our relationships with our bodies and senses of self.
My interest in twentieth-century American literature is intended to explore the breadth of American literature from across the twentieth century, including texts and authors that precede or extend beyond this period in order to contextualize the period and explore its implications for more contemporary literature. Most (but not all) of these texts contain content, contexts, or themes that overlap with my interest in health humanities and/or trauma studies. These texts include content related to healthcare, embodiment, military combat, violence, racial trauma, and gender-based trauma, topics which are vital for any discussion of twentieth-century American literature and which connect with my larger scholarly interests and goals.
My interest in health humanities and trauma studies embraces both primary and secondary texts in those fields, the two conceptual frames through which I generally tend to prioritize my approach to twentieth-century American literature. Because my primary literary interest concerns issues of embodiment, I focus on foundational texts in the field of health humanities alongside other related texts that explore issues of disability, pain, suffering, and empathy. These texts also concern the intersection of health with race, gender, and class, illuminating the complexities of health and embodiment as well as encompassing themes vital to any exploration of twentieth-century American literature.
My primary concern, however, is especially aimed at the ways in which psychologically traumatic events are depicted in literature. More specifically, I am interested in the political and ethical implications of such depictions within and beyond academia, in literature, film, and other media. Any interrogation of trauma studies must be grounded in an understanding of health humanities. Any interrogation of the concept of trauma must address issues of combat and violence, race, gender, intergenerational trauma, collective trauma, and the Holocaust, and so my research attempts to confront all of these topics, some of which prioritize an American perspective and others which intentionally include a more global perspective. More specifically, however, my project moving forward is especially concerned with concepts of collective trauma, racial trauma, and combat trauma, so my research emphasizes such concepts. Any and all work regarding this topic is fraught with ethical concerns regarding careful representation, so my research also confronts the concepts of witnessing, testimony, and representation.
I believe this work can be enlightening in our approach to literature (and other media) and can have an important impact on academia (through a variety of inter/disciplinary contexts) and on the public in general.
Trauma continues to be widely misunderstood; on some occasions it is diluted by being casually diagnosed in inappropriate ways that carry a multitude of assumptions while in other cases it is outright dismissed. While understanding the condition is of vital importance, my literary interests lead me to interrogate the less obvious implications in how we discuss and depict this issue.
The core question is: What is at stake when we represent psychological trauma (the original traumatic event and its lingering repercussions for the perpetrator and survivor) in literature and other media? How do we depict and discuss these events and their effects (both immediate and lingering)? How do we depict and discuss the perpetrators and the survivors of such events? What are the ethical and political implications in these depictions?
We have the ability to inform medical professionals, policy makers, literary scholars, the lay public, and survivors of trauma about these experiences and their resulting symptoms and struggles. That responsibility, in and of itself, poses a significant challenge to careful, ethical depictions.
In addition, there a variety of other questions to consider: How do we remain sensitive to populations affected by these or similar events while also maintaining the agency of such populations? How do we remain sensitive to these populations while providing accurate representations of these experiences? Can we ever be truly accurate with our attempts to represent such experiences for an audience who has not suffered similarly? Where do we draw the line between responsible depiction and education versus exploitation and potentially destructive voyeurism of atrocity? At what point are we actually duplicating or recreating trauma for our audience? Is it possible to unintentionally traumatize our audience, and if so, what are the ethical responsibilities toward such an audience? Even if we are intentionally responsible in our depiction of traumatic events, how can we ensure such depictions are not misappropriated for other means?
I’m also interested in other related questions: Can narrative reconstruction (also referred to as “witnessing” or “giving testimony”) be used as a tool to empower survivors of traumatic events for the purposes of healing and working through their trauma? If so, then more specifically, why is the narrative form the most useful or effective in providing this cathartic relief? In addition, as such narratives and testimonies are sure to suggest, what are the unique interpersonal challenges of living with post-traumatic stress disorder or suffering from psychologically traumatic events, especially regarding cultural stigmas, assumptions, and interactions with lay people, medical professionals, policy makers, and others invested in this topic?
Once again, the questions pile up. There are no easy answers. And that’s exactly what draws me to these areas of research and critical discourse and inquiry.
In general, I am eager to research and/or teach in any field relating to twentieth-century American literature, health humanities, and/or trauma studies, although I’m especially drawn to work that embraces the intersection of these fields.
I’m also interested in critically engaging with the works of specific writers such as (but obviously not limited to) F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Flannery O’Connor.
For more information on my experience conducting primary or archival research, see my Research Experience.