Spring 2011

Law and Historical Trauma

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-38


Nasser Hussain (Section 01)


Certain events in political history--revolutions, civil wars, transitions from authoritarian or totalitarian regimes to political democracy, or particular moments in the ongoing constitutional life of a nation--seem unusual in the breadth and depth of the break or rupture that they make from tradition, the past, and the ongoing self-understandings of a people. Those events pose a special opportunity and challenge for law. Can law repair the traumatic ruptures associated with revolution, civil war, and recent democratic transitions? In such moments does law provide a reassuring sense of stability that serves to maintain the underlying continuity of history? Or, does it compound the crisis of dramatic historical transformation by insisting on judging the past, bringing the losers to justice, and publicly proclaiming the “crimes” of the old order? What can we learn about law by examining its responses to historical trauma? To address these questions we will first examine the idea of trauma and ask what makes particular events traumatic and others not. Is trauma constitutive of law itself? Is law always born in traumatic moments and, at the same time, continuously preoccupied with responding to its own traumatic origins? We will then proceed comparatively and historically by focusing on a series of case studies including colonial revolution in Algeria, Aboriginal rights cases in Australia, slavery and civil war in the United States, and regime changes in South Africa, Germany, and Argentina. In each we will identify the part played by law and ask what we can learn about the capacities and limits of law both to preserve national memory and, at the same time, to build new social and political practices.

Requisite: LJST 01 or 10 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Hussain.

If Overenrolled: allow pre-registration and instructor will make cuts in class

Cost: $86.00 ?

LJST 38 - L/D

Section 01
M 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM FAYE 113
W 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM FAYE 113

ISBN Title Publisher Author(s) Comment Book Store Price
Beloved Penguin 1987 Toni Morrison Amherst Books TBD
Maus Art Spiegelman Amherst Books TBD
Eichmann in Jerusalem Penguin Hannah Arendt Amherst Books TBD

These books are available locally at Amherst Books.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011