Michael S. Roth


On his book Memory, Trauma, and History: Essays on Living with the Past

Cover Interview of November 13, 2011

The wide angle

Memory Trauma and History intersects with the history of medicine, with trauma studies and psychoanalysis, with questions concerning postmodernism and politics, and with issues concerning photography and historical consciousness.

The final section of the book deals with contemporary conversations about liberal education, and with how a broad, pragmatic approach to learning relates to historical consciousness and an orientation toward the future.

The oldest essays in this book were first drafted at the end of the 1980s; the most recent ones in 2010.

Over these twenty or so years I have continued to pursue issues emerging from those that first drew me to academic work, issues that orbit around the question of how people make sense of the past.

Memory, Trauma and History contains work written for academic audiences as well as for more general ones. All of the essays are concerned with making meaning out of history and memory—a concern which I first (at least academically) began to pursue with a project on Sigmund Freud and politics in the late 1970s, and one on which I continue to write and teach.

An early version of that first project was my senior honors thesis at Wesleyan University, published almost a decade later as Psycho-Analysis as History: Negation and Freedom in Freud.

I returned to Wesleyan in 2007 to become its sixteenth president, and the most recent pieces in this collection were written after I’d assumed this position.

I am not sure if this counts as a “full circle,” but this professional homecoming is part of the context for Memory, Trauma and History.