Course Number

HIST 276

Syllabus Date


Department course is offered by

HIST - History

Course description

There is no present and no future without the past. This is true not least when it comes to mass violence: the way societies decide about whether to engage in war or even genocide depends on their collective experiences with mass violence in the past, and on which lessons they have drawn from these experiences. Having suffered from complete devastation during World War II, most European societies have decisively refrained from warfare since 1945 and observed pacifist attitudes. The United States, widely untroubled by major wars on its own territory since the late 19th century, has been less reluctant to resolve political conflicts violently.

This seminar examines how societies, nations, groups and individuals remember war, genocide, and terror. How is such memory fabricated, transmitted, and consumed? We will inquire into theories of, and approaches to, the concept of collective memory and apply them to major events of mass violence and political terror in the 20th century: World War I, the Armenian Genocide, World War II, the Holocaust, the 1948 Palestine War, Apartheid in South Africa, the Vietnam War (and the American War as it is called in Vietnam), colonialism and genocide of indigenous peoples in North America, and the genocide in Rwanda. The difference between war and genocide will deserve attention. Comparative explorations into various regions will structure the course throughout.

The course will explore a broad range of issues and mediums of collective memory: legal issues of justice and injustice as they materialize in national and international trials and in international conventions; emotional consequences of trauma, mourning, shame, and guilt; the negotiation of memory in memoirs and testimonies, mass media, memorials, monuments, museums, fictional literature and popular culture (e.g., cinema and TV); the agency of survivors of genocides, war veterans, and second and third generations. These different dimensions of collective memory relate to different disciplines in the humanities and in the social and behavioral sciences. The course thus offers a chance to develop insights into interdisciplinary scholarship, i.e. into the ways different disciplines approach the same topic.

Document Type