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CREES Noon Lecture. “Origins of the Concept of ‘Crimes against Humanity’: Precedents, the Allied 1915 Note on the Armenian Genocide, and Legacies.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University

Many people identify the concept of “crimes against humanity” with the Nuremberg Trial and believe the term arose as a reaction to the Holocaust. In fact, the first use of the concept in a penal sense came three decades before, in the Allies’ May 24, 1915 Note to the Ottoman government regarding the Armenian genocide. This presentation will  examine three stages of the emergence of this concept: first, the 19th-century precedents of the concept of “crimes against humanity”; second, the negotiations and drafting of the Allies’ 1915 note and debates around the use of the term “crimes against humanity” (a note initiated and drafted by the Russian government, which also introduced this key term to the note); and, finally, the fate of the concept in the interwar years, leading up to the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-46. In particular, the presentation will trace the remarkable and overlooked role of imperial Russia in the development and usage of this concept.

Peter Holquist received his Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University in 1995. Prior to joining Penn’s History Department as associate professor in Fall 2006, he taught for nine years at Cornell University. Holquist’s teaching and research focus on the history of Russia and modern Europe. He is the author of Making War, Forging Revolution: Russia’s Continuum of Crisis, 1914-1921 (Harvard, 2002). He is also founder and editor of the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History and serves as editor for the Kritika Historical Studies. He has published articles on Russia‘s experience in the First World War and Russian Revolution, questions of continuity and change from the imperial period into the Stalin era, and other topics. Holquist’s current project, "By Right of War," explores the emergence of the international law of war in the late 19th and early 20th century. The project asks by what means, and to what degree, can one bring people’s conduct, even in extremis, into line with normative and ethical prescriptions.

World War I was a major turning point in world history that brought Europe’s long nineteenth century to a close and ushered in the conflicts of the twentieth century. Beginning in 2014, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia is sponsoring a series of programs—WWI 1914-2014: Reflecting on the 100th Anniversary of WWI—that examine the many ways that WWI changed Europe’s place in the world.

Sponsors: CREES, ASP, CES

Peter Holquist, associate professor of history, University of Pennsylvania