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The Birkbeck Trauma Project

(Studies in the History and Science of Trauma)


Director and founder: Professor Joanna Bourke

Co-founders and Fellows: Dr Louise Hide and Dr Carmen Mangion

Trauma is one of the most influential forces in history. The experience of trauma is both highly subjective and social, arising out of culturally-governed interactions, embodied consciousness, and theories of the body and mind circulating within any particular period.

The Birkbeck Trauma Project evolved from a project on pain that was funded by the Wellcome Trust. In that project, we set out to advance our understanding between corporeality and culture by exploring the complex biomedical, neurological, psychological, cognitive, and sensory aspects of ‘the body in pain’.

The Trauma Project builds on this research by adopting the complex meanings of trauma as embedded in its Greek root, τρaυμα, which refers to physical wounds as well as emotional ones. Although the cartesian distinction between body and spirit or soul is fundamental to western culture, mental pain always involves physical events – neurochemical, muscular, nervous, and so on – and physical pain does not exist without a mental component. The body is mind-ful and the mind is embodied.

The Birkbeck Trauma Project brings together researchers primarily in history, but also in literary studies, anthropology, medicine, and neurology.

Out this month...

The Story of Pain
Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain. From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford University Press, June 2014). Read more.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust

Etching in the crayon manner by
W. Herbert, c. 1770, after C. Le Brun.