The Assignment

A man visits the snow covered Holocaust Memorial at the Internat

Imaging Genocide: a Class Project

In this course we have read extensively about the history and theory of genocide. We have considered from a variety of disciplines (history, sociology, psychology etc.) how to define genocide, why and how genocidal violence takes place, and the similarities and differences between specific cases of genocide in history (e.g. genocides of indigenous populations in the Americas, the treatment of Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, the holocaust and so forth.)

But what does genocide look like? What can we learn about genocide from considering visual primary sources, for example photographs, paintings, film, cartoons, graphic novels etc? What do these images teach us about the cases of genocide that they depict? What do they show? What do they hide? And, no less important, how do they implicate us, the viewers, in the acts that they capture in visual form?

Imaging genocide, our final class project, will examine visual media as material for exploring the history and theory of genocide. Each student in class will focus on one or several images taken from a specific case of genocide, and create a blog entry about them.

Students will choose specific images to write about. They will research the following, preliminary questions: who created these images? When and where they were created? Who was their intended audience? What do they show? What do they not show? What were the circumstances in which they were created? In order to place the images in their proper context, students will also use secondary literature about the cases under consideration (this can be drawn from class readings or, if students are writing about cases that we did not discuss in class, they should consult with me to find appropriate materials.)

Specific Requirements

  • You will upload your papers as blog entries to a special blog that I have created for this purpose. (technical information on how to do that will be available later.)
  • Your blog entries will be between 2500-3000 words. (So, the equivalent of an 8-10 page paper, double-spaced.)
  • Your blog entries should include the image, images or, in cases where film is concerned, the clips you’re discussing. You can also include a link to these materials, if they can be found online. (But ideally, and certainly in the case of photos or paintings, these images should form part of the body of your entry.)
  • Blog entries must include proper academic citations, including references to specific page numbers in specific works. As for the style of your citations, you may follow the MLA, Chicago style, or any other style you choose, as long as you are consistent with one method of citation. If you’re not sure, talk to me.
  • You must proofread your blog entries, to make sure they are free from typos and grammatical errors.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • This project is part of a new approach to teaching, learning, and research in academia, broadly defined as Digital Humanities. The goal is to present the results of our research in new formats (online) and to make them publicly accessible. In other words, with this project, you are no longer only students, consumers of knowledge. You are now producers of knowledge. As such, and because the results of your research will be publicly accessible, you must be accountable for what you write: check your facts, be sure you got the details straight, and be ready to defend your positions (argument.)
  • The work that goes into creating these blog entries is the same work that goes into creating a serious, upper-division paper in history. You must do the research, show the ability to synthesize large amounts of information, and present your arguments in a cogent and clear manner.
  • There are many ways you can go about choosing your specific topics: you can decide on a case you’re interested in and then search for visual material related to it; or you can locate visual material that attracts you first, and then go on to consider the relevant case. In your search for a topic, feel free to consult material from the syllabus, your fellow students, or myself. But one important thing to keep in mind is: try to choose visual sources about which you can find some information. This will not always be possible. Many times, when it comes to images of genocide and mass violence, we just don’t know who created them, when, and under what precise circumstances. That lack of knowledge about these sources is itself a fact that you need to take into account in your analysis of the material (what does it mean to work with anonymous sources? What are the limits and advantages of what we can do with these images as historians?) But when possible, try to find visual sources about which we do have more information.

The history and theory of genocide is an important and delicate subject. In researching its visual dimensions and presenting the results of your research online, so that they are accessible to interested readers all over the world, you have the unique opportunity to make a real contribution to knowledge. You also have the opportunity to experiment with and learn skills that will be useful to you in your future occupations, whatever they might be. I hope that you will find this experience with Digital Humanities as rewarding and as exciting as I do.