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Grant number: AQ-51043-14

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North Carolina Central University (Durham, NC 27707-3129)
Camille Passalacqua (Project Director: September 2013 to present)
Rachelle Suzanne Gold (Co Project Director: May 2016 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Narratives of Survival and Healing

The development of an upper-level undergraduate course focused on literary and historical perspectives on the challenges of trauma, survival, and healing.

The development of an upper-level undergraduate course focused on literary and historical perspectives on the challenges of trauma, survival, and healing. Camille Passalacqua and Rachelle Gold, assistant professors of English at North Carolina Central University (a historically black liberal arts college in Durham, North Carolina), develop a course for juniors and seniors focused on the following questions: Can men and women survive and heal after trauma, not just physically, but also psychologically and creatively; and, if so, how? Students in the course explore a variety of works that address these questions, comparing literature from various eras and nations and examining different means of communicating extreme experiences. Aristotle's Poetics, with its ideas of purgation through pity and fear, is introduced to frame the course readings, along with contemporary work on trauma by such writers as Shoshana Felman. This theoretical grounding prepares students for the comparative investigation of paired texts to illuminate particular areas. Selections from Homer's Odyssey and Michihiko Hachiya's Hiroshima Diary explore the physical and psychological cost of war; portions of Tacitus's Germania and Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee take up questions of invasion, colonization, and cultural preservation. The personal cost of surviving violence is shown in both Sophocles' Antigone and Alicia Partnoy's The Little School: Tales of Disappearance and Survival in Argentina. Issues of wartime politics and male veterans' experiences of battle are explored in Shakespeare's Henry V and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Sara Nomberg-Pryzytk's narrative of her two years in Auschwitz is read alongside Dori Laub's essay "Bearing Witness" to consider the relationship between trauma survivors and those who read or hear their stories. Finally, experiences of displacement or exile within one's own homeland are illuminated by the first-hand accounts in Farewell to Manzanar (Jeanne Wakatusi Houston) and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Harriet Jacobs). Two films are also shown: the documentary From Swastika to Jim Crow and the Argentine drama The Official Story. In developing the course, the project directors expand their knowledge beyond their expertise in African-American topics and recent eras to include a broader historical and geographical perspective. They also plan to disseminate their work through an on-campus faculty institute.

Project fields:

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$32,955 (approved)
$32,664 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2014 – 5/31/2016