Keynote (title t.b.c.)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Keynote at the conference Music/Sound Through the Lens of Trauma: Methodology, Theory and History


Acts of killing lie at the very heart of war. By confronting those directly affected with death and serious injury, often repeatedly, wars are mass producers of traumatic events, and thus of traumatic disorders.
Traumatic disorders can be understood as a distortion of our sense of time relative to a traumatic event that, viewed objectively, is over. If we are traumatised, the event refuses to stay in the past; we are still in the event, it is still happening to us, or could happen to us, again, at any moment. The traumatic event haunts us either consciously, continuously, or as a lurking danger that can be released by what may seem the most trivial of triggers.
Long-term traumatic disorders are not inevitable, however. Some studies of the psychological aftershocks of collective and political violence have explored the role of meaning and narrative in accounting for why traumatic disorders happen to some but not others, and are more common in some contexts than others. It would appear that how we frame and make sense of traumatic events, as individuals and as collectives, plays an important role here. In fact, historical study of the cultural practices of war demonstrates that while the labelling is different, this knowledge itself is not new: societies which take part in war have developed numerous strategies for managing and containing the violence and the trauma that war causes. We might also suggest that this is why wars play such a significant role in collective and cultural memory: coming to terms with wars’ impacts by creating narratives around them is essential for both individuals and for society as a whole.
Music often plays an important role in these practices. Most immediately, this can include using music to symbolically frame and thus contain acts of violence in war. Practices that recognise combatants’ contributions, suffering and resilience — such as homecoming parades, and remembrance services — can also be considered ways in which traumatic experiences are filled with meaning, and therefore become easier to process. The creation of historical narratives about particular wars can play a role too: here as well, music (particularly song) has often been a key medium through which these narratives are constructed and communicated.
Marking and memorialising the violence of war can therefore be understood as strategies to overcome the effects of violence in war, and to move on from them. But move on to where? For, in the words of Bettina Schmidt and Ingo Schröder, writing in 2001, “Wars are fought from memory, and they are often fought over memory, over the power to establish one group’s view of the past as the legitimate one”. In this lecture, I want to think about this double-edged nature of how societies deal with the traumas of war. At what point do these practices cease to become a necessary way of dealing with wars past, and become instead a factor in wars of the future?
Period7 Jul 2022
Held atUniversiteit Utrecht, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • music
  • war
  • musicology of war
  • trauma
  • ritual