Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Trauma and its discontents: from the age of testimony to the age of trigger warnings

21 March 2024, 6:15 pm–7:15 pm

people in a classroom in Yale university in 1984

UCL's Health Humanities Centre is pleased to welcome Shaul Bar-Haim (University of Essex) to give this seminar.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Forum
G17, ground floor, South Wing
UCL, Gower St, London
United Kingdom

The coining of PTSD in the DSM-III of 1980 brought a major paradigm shift in the way doctors, and society more generally, perceived trauma and the traumatic event itself. Rather than trauma being something that characterizes particular individuals and is attributable to their external circumstances, their psychosocial background and their inborn vulnerabilities, it was now attributed almost solely to traumatic events, which at times happened years or even decades before a full mental health crisis materialized; hence, all people that had been exposed to traumatic circumstances regardless of their mental health had the merit to claim that they too could be suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. However, I argue, we have some evidence to think that another shift in the discourse of trauma occurred in the last two decades, namely the focus is now not necessarily on the event itself but on the “traumatic triggers” of the event and with an effort to create “safe spaces” from such triggers.

First, I will identify the preconditions of this ‘shift to triggers’ and the historical process through which it came about and to examine its epistemic implications. Then, in light of all those changes, I will revise an already relatively old article (1991) by literary scholar Shosana Felman, ‘Education and Crisis, or the Vicissitudes of Teaching’. This piece is dedicated to describe and reflect on an experimental graduate module, entitled ‘Literature, Psychoanalysis and History’, that she convened at Yale University in 1984. In this seminar she used some testimonies from the then new established Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. The horrifying testimonies that she showed to her students created a pedagogical crisis in the class which crucially affected the students wellbeing in some unexpected ways. However, rather than backing down and ‘protecting’ her students from those testimonies, Felman somehow ‘celebrated’ this crisis as the inevitable route for learning on historical traumatic events in class. Thus, this paper provides us with an opportunity to examine a very specific historical moment in the early 1980s, in which PTSD didn’t have yet its full effect on culture and society, and the re-enactment of traumatic event was perceived as a pedagogical opportunity rather than a treat.

Please register to attend at https://trauma-and-discontents.eventbrite.co.uk

The UCL Health Humanities Centre draws together staff from different disciplines, departments and faculties engaged in teaching and research on matters relating to health, illness and well-being.

About the Speaker

Dr Shaul Bar-Haim

Senior Lecturer at Sociology and Criminology, University of Essex

His research interests include history of psychoanalysis, twentieth-century 'psy' disciplines, cultural history of the British welfare state, history and theory of childhood, trauma studies, and feminism and psychoanalysis.

More about Dr Shaul Bar-Haim