Nothing says “Welcome to New Haven” like snow! I began my three month secondment at Yale University in January 2017 and I found the weather to be a drastic change from the milder climate at my home university, Trinity College Dublin. The precipitation and low temperatures did not dampen the excitement of studying at the prestigious home of cultural trauma theory. It was evident from the license plates of the cars parked around campus that people had come from all over the United States to attend this Ivy League school. Prior to commencing the secondment, Dr Jennifer Edmond and Deirdre Byrne, with infinite patience, provided me with updates and information about procedures to ensure I could hit the ground running.
While the winter weather impeded more leisurely strolls around the campus collage of New England colonial-style buildings and brutalist icons, each Monday I attended a seminar taught by Professor Ron Eyerman. The module, “Social Theory, Trauma and Memory”, was based in the sociology department but attended by graduate students from several disciplines and undergraduates with permission. The number of students was small, but the variety in backgrounds was vast, making for profound dialogues informed by history, psychology, cultural studies and knowledge of specific cultures such as Russia, South Africa, and Argentina. My doctoral dissertation, “The function of myth in cultural trauma films of Southeastern Europe” benefited hugely because the module defined, explored—and challenged—what was necessary for a collective or a community to exist and continue existing after a trauma had occurred. I came to Yale well-versed in mythology and film studies, but I sought the vocabulary to describe a community and the processes it undergoes and this seminar provided me with it. The experience was never going to lead to a definitive formula for cultural trauma, because human nature does not permit for such clarity, but I made advances in the analysis and structuring of methodology to such cultural upheavals.
Similar analyses where the only aim was improvement took place on Fridays at the sociology workshop in which both staff and students received feedback on their work. As a group devoid of pretence or hierarchy, each attendee witnesses that everyone, and their writing, is a work in progress. A more independent, but equally effective way of improving one’s work was to attend the campus writing center. Research in the humanities is rarely tidy, so even reading my work aloud to a trained tutor and fellow student helped me realize where I needed to elaborate on terms and when I was heading down a proverbial rabbit hole!
I will be forever grateful to Dr. Edmond, Professor Eyerman, the SPECTRESS programme, Trinity College Dublin and Yale University for the opportunity to immerse myself in cultural trauma literature with fellow researchers and wish for anyone on secondment at Yale to have as an enriching time as mine.