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The Birkbeck Trauma Project

The Birkbeck Trauma Project led by Professor Joanna Bourke and Dr Louise Hide, interrogates the concept of ‘trauma’ and the ways it has changed over time.

With funding from the Wellcome Trust (£332,000) and from the Wellcome/Birkbeck ISSF fund, it has investigated questions including: What is meant by a ‘traumatic event’ and how have the medical and psychological sciences attempted to deal with ‘traumatized people’? Why do people respond in different ways to violent assaults, unexpected shocks or being exposed to life-threatening conditions over a prolonged period of time? How have medical responses to traumatic events – railway spine, shell-shock, war neurosis, PTSD – been conceptualised by the different agencies of society over the past two centuries?

We study narratives left by trauma sufferers and perpetrators to deepen our understanding of the contexts in which traumatic events have been constructed and interpreted over time. There are four main foci: pain and the emotions; institutional trauma; wounding in science and medicine; and sexual violence. Understanding why and how harm was done in the past gives us invaluable insights into some of the most pressing issues of today.

The project has initiated a major international conference in addition to other academic and public events to explore this issue with scholars from a range of disciplines and practitioners from a variety of professional sectors. For more information see Events.

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