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Teaching about Genocide: Approaches and Challenges

Organized by the Armenian Studies Program, University of Michigan
Co-sponsored by Program in International and Comparative Studies, Human Rights Initiative, and Department of History
March 14, 2015

In recent years the study of "comparative genocide" has developed into its own field of inquiry. Rather than evaluating various genocides to determine which one was the worse or judge the degree of horrors based on a pornography of pain, comparative genocide studies examines modern genocides through larger themes such as modernity, memory, representations, denial, and reconciliation to study and delineate common conditions that lead to genocide.

While there are a number of organizations, such as Facing History Within Ourselves and the "Genocide Education Project," their teaching, curriculums, and resources available to educators are mainly geared toward high school students. Facing History only recently has begun to reach out to college level educators. Post-high school education projects in their methodologies of teaching "comparative genocide" often adhere to archetypical framing (i.e., teaching one genocide in detail and then bringing in cases to compare). The Genocide and Human Rights University Program of the Zoryan Institute in Toronto, for example, teaches the Armenian case in its details and then invites comparatives of other cases after students have mastered the history of the Armenian case.

The recent shift in the study of genocide explores massacres, mass atrocities, ethnic cleansing together with humanitarian interventions and human rights studies. This is a welcome development, but also presents us with a number of problems, from the selection of materials for such course, the framing, the student’s emotive responses, and most importantly how to teach thematically without losing historical depth and specificity.

This one-day workshop invited an interdisciplinary conversation as to methodologies of teaching genocide to address various difficulties that scholars encounter in teaching beyond the paradigmatic or archetype frame.