Collective trauma and long term health impacts

On my other blog I have written about The Glamour of the West, an obscure book from 1928. One passage in this collection of episodic sketches deals with something I have have wondered about myself – the ultra long terms effects of collective trauma on the psyche. Of course, much tendentious stuff along these lines has been written, but I wonder about serious study of the topic:

Here’s the passage from Kelleher:

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

Here it is in the original (blurry photo and all) :

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Ultra Long Term Health Effects of Slavery

This is a post I wrote on the Economics, Psychology, Policy blog, which I got involved with via rather tangential links with  the UCD Geary Institute – Liam Delaney, who I got to know then, was then  Prof of Behavioural Economics in Stirling University and the blog seems now to be part of the Stirling course – but now it seems Liam is back in UCD!

I have a weakness for sword’n’sandal type historical fiction set in Ancient Rome. One author I particularly enjoy is Steven Saylor who writes detective novels set in Ancient Rome, which manage to combine a modern sensibility – with the archetypal cynical, Sam Spadeish detective hero – with a real immersion into the foreign world of the classical past. The most recent book of his I’ve read, Arms of Nemesis, really brought home how horrific it must have been to be a slave. And it got me thinking – millions of people, possibly the majority in the classical world (as far as I recall, the number of Athenian citizens, who were of course all free males, was a tenth of the number of Athenian slaves) lived in this state of permanent insecurity, literally dehumanised and debased.

This, to say the least, can’t help but have had some profound psychological effects. And considering that, presumably, of people alive at the present moment, a good proportion have slavery somewhere, perhaps very deep, in their ancestry, perhaps this underlies many of the enduring psychological difficulties we call personality disorders. After all, we are still only beginning to realise the intergenerational effects of traumas such as the post World War II exodus and expulsions of Germans from Eastern Europe Martin’s post on the enduring health effects of 9/11 rekindled this train of thought.

Obviously in the U.S. there’s an ongoing controversy about reparations for slavery, the assets of companies who profited even indirectly during the Holocaust, and other such issues. Perhaps we should all try and lobby the Italian government for reparations from the slave holding of the Ancient Romans!