CFP: The ‘Holocaust Metaphor’: Cultural Representations of Traumatic Pasts in the 20th Century

The ‘Holocaust Metaphor’: Cultural Representations of Traumatic Pasts in the 20th Century

30th and 31st May 2013, Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain

Keynote Speakers: Alejandro Baer, Director of the Center for Holocaust and GenocideStudies, University of Minnesota (tbc); Antonio Cazorla-Sanchez, Trent University

The recent publication of Paul Preston’s book The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain (2012) invites reflection on the manner in which a term that refers to the near annihilation of the European Jewry at the hands of Nazi Germany and its allies is often taken out of context and used to describe a wealth of unrelated historical events. Some examples of this trend include the destruction of Armenians and Greeks (1915-22), the Ukrainian famine in 1932-33, the persecution of Italians in 1943-45 by Titoist troops, the 1.7 million people killed by the Khmer regime in 1975-79, as well as to instances of ethnic cleansing and genocidethat took place in East Timor (1975-99), Rwanda (1994), the former Yugoslavia (1992-95), and Sudan (2003-10).

Clearly, the evocative power associated with the term ‘Holocaust’ enables all those who employ the ‘Holocaust metaphor’ uncritically (i.e. scholars, politicians, journalists, novelists etc.) to reach a wider audience, comparing tragedies that are qualitatively and quantitatively different by conjuring up a broad imagery of senseless horror, racial hatred and powerlessness with which contemporary societies have become to some extent familiar through testimonies and representation in literature, cinema, documentaries, comic books, art, photography and advertising. On the one hand, despite an abundance of criticism towards it, this trend has demonstrated a surprising capacity to perpetuate itself, and there seems to be no end to the mushrooming of instances in which tragedies that bear no connection with the plight of the Jews are compared with it, and constructed in a manner that often fails to take into consideration crucial debates and questions – such as those concerning the Holocaust’s uniqueness, its commodification, banalisation, and inherent exploitation. On the other hand, there also seem to be very little awareness as to the fact that, even in the few instances in which an engagement with the afore-mentioned matters can be detected, such works usually fall short of highlighting one of the key problems of contemporary multicultural societies: how to think about the relationship between different groups’ histories of victimisation (Rothberg, 2009).

This conference wishes to bring together early career researchers and doctoral students who have recently completed (or are about to complete) their course of studies to examine the multiple ways in which Holocaust discourse and conceptualisation has been used to make sense of traumatic pasts and civilian suffering in Europe and elsewhere in the world. It constitutes an attempt to move beyond a sterile ‘nominalist’ debate and explore the possibilities and limitations of reference. We invite individual and joint proposals for 20-minute presentations (to be delivered in either English or Spanish), in the following areas:

• Representations of violence and trauma through literature, the media, films, documentaries, photography, and the arts

• Representations of group victimisation through monuments, public ceremonies, and legislation

• Examining how new communication technologies contribute to the multiplication and diffusion of stereotypical representations of the past

• Gendered representations of trauma, post-memory and the question of an emotional engagement with a painful past

• Representations of victims, survivors and witnesses in an age characterised by the broadening of the notion of ‘victimhood’ and an increasing preoccupation with the questions of generation, generational belonging and generational memory

• Representing trauma and victimhood in a commodity culture; assessing the repercussions of the ‘Holocaust business’ (i.e. the Holocaust as a market-determined product, consumed for the sensationalist and sentimental effects it generates)

Please send a 250-word abstract (in English or Spanish) and a 50-word biography to Abstracts should include name and affiliation, email address and A/V requirements (if any). The deadline for submissions is Friday, 28 December 2012.

All queries shall be addressed to the conference organisers, Dr Chiara Tedaldi and Dr Anna Rosenberg. For queries in English please contact Dr Tedaldi ( and for those in Spanish write to Dr Rosenberg (

The organisers envisage the publication of the best papers presented at the conference. The authors of successful paper proposals will be notified via email by Friday, 1 March 2013. On this occasion, the instructions for authors and the deadline for submission of articles to be considered for publication will be circulated. Prospective participants should bear in mind that contributions that have a limited engagement with the themes included in the above Call for Papers are unlikely to be shortlisted for publication.

Due to the limited funding available, the conference organisers cannot provide financial assistance to cover travel and accommodation expenses. A conference fee of €20 (for conference lunches and light refreshments) will be charged to presenters. Entrance for students and members of the public will be free.

Chiara Tedaldi
Irish Research Council CARA Postdoctoral Mobility Fellow
School of Languages and Literatures, University College Dublin and Departamento de Historia Moderna y Contemporánea, Universidad de Zaragoza

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