I am a PhD student from the University of Tartu, Estonia. The SPeCTReSS programme gave me an opportunity to spend three months in the spring of 2016 in the University of São Paulo, Brazil, and do research on cultural trauma. Since then the concept has become one of the central theoretical terms of my doctoral thesis that concentrates on the depiction of slavery in African American and serfdom in Estonian literature. The concept of cultural trauma enables me to view how certain shocking events or time periods acquire a traumatic meaning central to identity creation of a collective in a complicated process of (re)presentation and (re)interpretation. It allows me to explain the function of literary texts that have chosen slavery or serfdom as their central subject matter in a particular culture.
The majority of my time was spent in the Humanities Library of the University of São Paulo with countless research articles on the topic as my trusted companions. I also had the opportunity to take part in two seminar sessions. On April 15th, Spectress scholars Prof. Luiz Fernando (University of São Paulo) and Prof. Vitor Blotta (University of São Paulo) presented the research they had done within the programm and on May 13th Prof. Davor Dukić (Zagreb University) and myself presented ours. These seminars with other Spectress scholars were very interesting and gave me an understanding on the variety of topics that use the concept of cultural trauma to gain a better insight into the processes that interpret traumatic events in cultures and societies around the world.
In São Paulo I was received by professor Laura Izarra and her doctoral student Eda Nagayama. Together they introduced the university facilities to me and gave me a tour of the campus. Eda was also kind enough to show me around the city and introduce me to many local people, therefore allowing me to get to know São Paulo outside an academic setting. Eda also invited me to participate in an event hosted in a local community center that introduced cultures of refugees that had come to Brazil to escape various conflict situations from around the world. The event I visited on March 27th concentrated on Congolese culture and I had the opportunity to hear traditional Congolese music and learn traditional Congolese dances. This event allowed me to see how the concept of cultural trauma is not only significant in researching historical traumas but it also can function as an important tool to understanding conflicts in contemporary societies that are currently unfolding.
This impression was strengthened even more because my secondment coincided with a very tumultuous time in Brazilian society. At the time, president Dilma Rouseff was involved in a political scandal and the public demanded for her impeachment. There were large scale protests in the city where millions of people came to the streets to demand for a less corrupt government. Seeing the protest first hand and having many conversations with locals on the topic gave me an impression that this might be a cultural trauma unfolding in front of my eyes.
As my research concentrates on the depiction of slavery and serfdom, I also visited the Afro-Brazilian museum in the Ibirapuera Park to become better acquainted with the local heritage of slavery in Brazil. The museum offered a very nicely structured exhibition that gave an overview of the journey of African people to Brazil and the influence their culture has had on Brazilian culture.
Overall the experience was an interesting and a challenging one at the same time. Thanks to the Spectress programm, I had a chance to take a significant step forward in my research and I hereby would like to thank everyone who made the experience possible.