Traumatic Pasts, Cosmopolitanism, and Nation-Building in Contemporary German and South African Literature

Professor Stuart Taberner has been awarded £260,000 by the Leverhulme Trust for a three-year project comparing German and South African literature. The project focuses on coming-to-terms with National Socialism in Germany and coming-to-terms with apartheid in South Africa, and on the way literature in both countries is reflecting on, but also shaping these processes. The award, which includes funding for two fully funded Ph.D scholarships and a postdoctoral research fellow, builds on the growing interest at Leeds in how traumatic memories circulate around the globe, in comparative literature, and in parallels between Germany and South Africa in particular. This will be the theme of a major international conference, Transnational Holocaust Memory, in January 2015.

The research project is also linked to an exhibition on the German experience of coming-to-terms with the Holocaust, designed by Stuart Taberner and colleagues in Leeds and South Africa and funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The exhibition will launch at the University of Leeds, the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and the UK National Holocaust Centre in January 2015.

We will be looking to appoint two Ph.D students from September 2015, and one postdoctoral fellow from September 2016. The Ph.D students and the postdoctoral fellow will be working comparatively across two or more literatures to examine the way in which traumatic pasts are being addressed in literary fiction across the world.

Summary of the project

‘This project analyses literary fiction in post-unification Germany and post-apartheid South Africa as a critique of the way these countries relate their traumatic pasts to the globalisation of Holocaust memory (‘cosmopolitan memory’) in order to promote nation-building. My primary objective is to write the first comprehensive analysis of German-language and South African writing in relation to traumatic pasts, cosmopolitan memory and nation-building. My second is to build a team of researchers working comparatively on other regions confronting difficult pasts to test the hypothesis that this genre of literary fiction is the paradigmatic world literature of the present moment (my third objective).’