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Memory and Trauma in Times of Transition


Admission requirements

BA Humanities.


In societies, the times of transition are times of negotiation. When a regime changes, new migration flows occur or new borders need to established after a conflict, societies and individuals have to re-invent their identity. This means partly reinventing the past, under the tension of a new balance.
This course addresses how memory is used in such tense times of transition. Although transition is among the most intriguing subjects of memory, it has thus far been ignored by cultural memory studies. Scholars have mostly focused on remembrance of longer periods of authoritarian rule, coloniality or genocide. What interests us here is not such a longer period, but the abruptness of rapid change, and the role literature plays in this both in Europe and Africa.
Literary texts recall or re-imagine such periods of transition, often perceived as a time of chaos and rupture, but also of cultural contact and innovation. Building upon the theories and approaches developed in this field, we will engage with the questions of how such times are represented or repeated in contemporary literature.
We are particularly interested in texts that employ the narrative and (re)mediating possibilities of literature to engage with a multiplicity of voices and experiences, and thus the ambiguities of transitional periods. Combining close readings, contextual exploration of texts, and reading literature and cultural theory in dialogue, we will inquire into the ways in which literary writing partakes in discourses and practices of public memory seen as a field of power contestation. Comparing across the post-WW II, postcolonial contexts in Europe and Africa, will be part of this exploration.
After an introductory session, seminars in the first half of the course will focus on the following themes:

  • Nationalism and its discontents

  • Transnational imaginations

  • Nostalgia and resistance

  • Migration

  • Trauma and repair

  • Post-memory

Sessions after the break will engage these or similar topics, but the reading materials will be selected by the students (in consultation with the lecturers), who will also lead the class discussions in that week.

Course objectives

After this course you will be able:

  • To describe and analyze the different ways in which literature produces or critiques memory of in a transitional post- or decolonialist context.

  • To analyze and interprete the effects of memory production in literary texts of transition societies and present the results of these analysis orally and in writing.

  • To distinguish, select and apply different theoretical approaches to literary texts, and to evaluate both the theory and examples of its application.

  • To use a comparative approach of memory studies in the framing and analysis of literary texts of transitional societies.

  • To design and perform an academic research project into a case of memory production in literature in a postcolonialist context

  • To collaboratively design and lead a class discussion on a topic of memory in postcolonial literature of transition, giving feedback and drawing conclusions.


See Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Seminars: 3 hours per week x 13 weeks: 39 hours;

  • Writing assignment(s): 26 hours;

  • Studying compulsory readings for seminars: 69 hours;

  • Reading primary literature (novels): 50 hours;

  • Preparing session leadership with peers: 20 hours;

  • Writing of final course paper, 5.000 words: 80 hours (rereading texts, collecting research material, searching and reading additional literature, composing and writing of paper).

RMA students will perform two extra assignments:

  • A peer review assignment

  • They will rewrite the final paper into a publication in an academic journal.

Assessment method


  • Written and oral assignments (50%- no resit possible). In the second half of term, the assignment consists of the development and teaching of one topic to the rest of the class.

  • Final paper (50%). May 21st : Deadline and presentation first draft. Final deadline on June 1st.


See Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Wicomb, Zoe. David’s Story

  • Coovadia, Imraan. Tales of the Metric System

  • Davids, Nadia. An Imperfect Blessing

Rest is to be announced at the start of the course.


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable