Leah McBride

History of Art // 8 University Gardens

Email // L.McBride.1@research.gla.ac.uk

Research title

Figuring the Atrocious: Trauma Representation in Contemporary Art Practice

Research summary

My research is concerned with the ways in which all manner of collective traumas--instances of ethnic cleansing or genocide, violence perpetrated against citizens by oppressive military regimes, acts of terrorism, the destruction whole communities by human and drug trafficking cartels, cases of widespread and insititutionalised sexual abuse, among other examples--are represented by artists at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first centuries. In particular, I am interested in how contemporary artists approach collective traumas outwith the boundaries of dominant models of 'trauma theory' as formulated, most famously, by psychiatrist Dori Laub and literary critics Cathy Caruth and Shoshana Felman in the wake of the resurgence of Holocaust scholarship and the memory studies 'boom' of the 1990s. Based predominantly on the sublimity of the Holocaust as a limit of experience while paradoxically positioning subsequent instances of genocide as existing at this same limit, these theories tend to universalise traumatic experience and human suffering. Additionally, their reliance on medical (psychiatric) modes of thinking about trauma, evidenced by the privileged position Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder holds in the discourse, serves both as an attempt to legitimise trauma theory through a connection with the scientific and assumes that trauma is experienced by all human beings in the same manner--as all human beings might experience a physiological disease such as measles in the same manner--without any consideration of a region's specific cultural, social, historical, political, economic, or religious context. This is problematic when one considers that many of the collective traumas listed above have their roots in global economic and political process, particularly in cases of collective traumas that occur in subaltern regions.

Through case studies, my research explores the varied aesthetic and contextual practices utilised by contemporary artists that act as a point of departure from these dominant models of trauma theory, as in Alfredo Jaar's Rwanda Project or Teresa Margolles' body of work concerned with the effect that the global drug trade and local cartels have on the ordinary citizens of Mexico's poorest regions. The purpose of these explorations is to prompt a shift from the universalising paradigms of current trends in trauma theory and begin to see these kinds of practices as inscribing the political and social into the representation of trauma in order to render visible the global economic and political processes that allow and encourage traumatic events to occur.


University Trust International Leadership Scholarship (Academic Year 2013-2014) // Awarded by the University of Glasgow // £5,000 Tuition discount toward the completion of a taught Masters programme (MLitt: Art: Politics: Transgression: 20th Century Avant-Gardes)

College of Arts PhD Scholarship (2014-2017) // Awarded by the University of Glasgow College of Arts // £13,000 combined tuition discount and general funds stipend

Juan Facundo Riaño Essay Medal Prize (2016) // Awarded by ARTES (Iberian And Latin American Visual Culture Group) in collaboration with the British-Spanish Society and the Embassy of Spain // £400


Association of Art Historians Annual Conference // 7-9 April 2016 // University of Edinburgh // Archives of Trauma: Photographic Documentation in Alfredo Jaar's Rwanda Project // Panel: Photo/Memory--Recovering Memory and Identity Through Photographs in 20th Century Cultural Production


History of Art // Level 1 Seminar Tutor

Additional information


  • E-Mentor for the Ask-A-Student Network
  • International Student Ambassador for the University of Glasgow International and Recruiting Office