In the last century, genocide has occurred all too often. The Holocaust is the most famous case, but it was not the first, nor has it been the last. Indeed, in your lifetime, genocide has occurred in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sudan. But just what is genocide? Why do states engage in mass murder? How do they mobilize citizens to become perpetrators? What happens to societies in the aftermath of genocide? How unique is the Holocaust as a case of genocide? And finally, what are the politics surrounding the term “genocide”? We will examine these and other questions through the in-depth study of three particular cases of genocide: the Nazi murder of Jews and other groups during World War II, Pol Pot’s massacre of Cambodians in the 1970s, and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Course materials will focus on close readings of historical and contemporary texts, including films, songs, oral histories, memoirs, court documents, and scholarly works. We also hope to introduce the class to someone who has endured genocide so as to promote discussion about how individuals experience traumatic historical events. In terms of assignments, students may expect various exercises that will foster their skills in critical thinking. We will focus on writing skills, including researching topics and conveying effective arguments at the college level. We will also encourage web-based assignments; debates and other kinds of collaborative exercises; and assignments that focus on oral presentations.