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A Savage Land: Violence and Trauma in the Nineteenth-Century American Southwest

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This dissertation seeks to understand two universal experiences that have pervaded human society since man first climbed out of the trees: violence and trauma. Using theories gleaned from the Holocaust

This dissertation seeks to understand two universal experiences that have pervaded human society since man first climbed out of the trees: violence and trauma. Using theories gleaned from the Holocaust and other twentieth century atrocities, this work explores narratives of violent action and traumatic reaction as they occurred among peoples of the nineteenth-century American Southwest. By examining the stories of individuals and groups of Apaches, Ethnic Mexicans, Euro-Americans, and other diverse peoples within the lens of trauma studies, a new narrative emerges within US-Mexico borderlands history. This narrative reveals inter-generational legacies of violence among cultural groups that have lived through trauma and caused trauma within others. For both victims and perpetrators alike, trauma and violence can transform into tools of cultural construction and adaptation.

Part I of this work establishes the concept of ethnotrauma-- a layered experience of collective trauma among minority populations under racial persecution. By following stories of Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Warm Springs Apaches in the nineteenth-century Southwest, this dissertation reveals how Apaches grappled with ethnotrauma through generations during times of war, imprisonment, and exile. These narratives also reveal how Apaches overcame these legacies of pain through communal solidarity and cultural continuity. Part II explores the concept of perpetrator trauma. By following stories of Mexican norteños, Mexican-Americans on the US-Mexico border, and American settlers, the impact of trauma on violators also comes to light. The concept perpetrator trauma in this context denotes the long-term cultural impacts of committing violence among perpetrating communities. For perpetrating groups, violence became a method of affirming and, in some cases, reconstructing group identity through opposition to other groups. Finally, at the heart of this work stands two critical symbols-- Geronimo, victim and villain, and the land itself, hostile and healing-- that reveal how cycles of violence entangled ethnotrauma and perpetrator trauma within individuals struggling to survive and thrive in a savage land.

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  • 2020