Interdisciplinary Elective Subject, topic 4: Terror and Trauma

Course content

A study of the limits of articulation and representation in the presence of terror and trauma.


This course considers four events that, while universally recognized as of the greatest significance in human affairs, are yet of uncertain and controversial definition.  


  • Aerial bombardment of cities (London and Dresden)
  • Shoah (Holocaust)
  • Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Chernobyl

Each week the seminar will meet for six hours on two separate days over fourteen weeks. Colleagues will be invited to contribute according to their specialization.
Towards the end of the course (after 8 or 9 weeks) when we have covered the substance of the primary readings, each student will be invited to choose a particular topic. Through the last five or six weeks of the semester, each of the students will be expected to make a presentation on that topic. The presentation may be graded, depending on the exam format.

The teaching material contains essays, literature and edited collections of oral and written testimonies concerning these four events.


Primary reading list: 

  • Primo Levi: Se questo è un uomo (1958) / If this is a man (1969)
  • Elie Wiesel, La nuit (1958) / Night (2006)
  • H.G. Adler, Eine Reise (1962) /The Journey (2009)
  • Etty Hillesum, Het Verstoorde leven (1981) / An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-43 (1984)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  • W. G. Sebald: Luftkrieg und Literatur (1999) / On the Natural History of Destruction (2003)
  • Svetlana Alexievich Chernobyl Prayer (1997/2016)
  • Walter Kempowski, Das Echolot. Ein kollektives Tagebuch. Abgesang ´45 / Swansong 1945 (2005). 


Additional reading list

For comparison and contrast with these texts, we shall read more extensively,  students will be encouraged to choose two other texts from the list below and to read them in the languages within their competence: for seminars, the English translation will be the common text.

  • John Hersey, Hiroshima (1946)
  • Allan Resnais, Hiroshima mon amour (1959) (Film to be shown) and Marguerite Duras, Hiroshima mon amour (1960) / Hiroshima mon amour (1961)
  • Peter Weiss, Die Ermittlung (1965) / The Investigation (1966)
  • Martha Gellhorn: ‘Dachau: Experimental Murder’ (June 23, 1945)
  • Ruth Klüger, weiter leben - eine Jugend (1992) translated (and adapted) as Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (2001).
  • Jorge Semprun, Quel beau dimanche! (1980) / What a Beautiful Sunday (1980)

Inter alia

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Type of assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 84
  • Preparation
  • 325,5
  • English
  • 409,5


Course number
Programme level

1 semester

See schedule
Study board of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinators
  • Jessica Ortner   (6-76797b756c79476f7c7435727c356b72)
  • Charles Lock   (4-71746870456d7a7233707a336970)
Saved on the 19-10-2021

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