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Survivors: Psychological Trauma and Memory Politics in Hiroshima and Auschwitz

Ran Zwigenberg, Penn State

This talk is a part of the CGS Brown Bag Series. In 1962 a young Jewish-American psychiatrist by the name of Robert J. Lifton came to Hiroshima to conduct research on the psychiatric impact of the A-bomb. His research, combined with research on Holocaust survivors and Vietnam veterans was crucial in the making of what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Lifton’s work was entangled with and contributed to the history of memory in Japan and the west. Based on his award winning book, Hiroshima: the Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2014) as well as more recent research, Ran Zwigenberg’s talk will examine these entanglements and connections between the medical reaction to the Holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the politics of memory in both contexts. What stood in the center of both histories were the survivors of the events, who became focal points of growing body of research as well as political symbols. The ‘survivor’, Zwigenberg argues, developed historically as a transnational category that drew on many sources, both within what came to be known as Holocaust discourse and outside of it. The convergence of the histories of Hiroshima and the Holocaust in the late sixties and seventies and the making of the category of PTSD (as well as the subsequent rise of trauma studies) led to the formation of survivorhood as an expansive, universal category that was used beyond the confines of the two cases of mass-killings. 

Ran Zwigenberg is assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. His research focuses on modern Japanese and European history, with a specialization in memory and intellectual history. He has taught and lectured in the United States, Europe, Israel, and Japan, and published on issues of war memory, atomic energy, psychiatry, and survivor politics.  Zwigenberg’s first book, Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2014), winner of the 2016 Association for Asian Studies’ John W. Hall book award, deals comparatively with the commemoration and the reaction to the Holocaust and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. For more information on this and other projects, please see

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:15pm

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Faculty, Undergraduate, Graduate

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