Genocide, Displacement, Refugees, 1931–71

AHA Session 54
Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Scottsdale Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Wendy Lower, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitšt
Tara E. Zahra, University of Chicago

Session Abstract

Growing temporal distance and general shifting of perspectives, significant closures since 1989-91 for the meanings of the “long postwar,” postcolonial and globalizing encouragements to seeing European history in wider settings, current “transnationalizing” impetus in contemporary historiography, and new comparative perspectives on genocide, state-directed violence, population politics, migrancy, refugees, and human rights – all these developments allow us to rethink familiar aspects of World War II. From Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent (1998), through Tony Judt’s Postwar (2006), to Timothy Synder’s Bloodlands (2010), major new works have suggested how that history might be rewritten, though still without breaking through the barriers of Eurocentrism. With more success (e.g. Dan Stone, Dirk Moses, Christian Gerlach, Donald Bloxham, Cathie Carmichael), recent historiography of the Holocaust has established new comparative perspectives on genocide, displacement and forced migration of peoples, treatment of refugees, and the resulting fallout for the evolving discourse of international human rights.

By exploring varying places from which these overarching questions might be viewed, ranging from a large-scale transnational vantage-point inside Europe itself (Eley) to the contiguous extra-European region of the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East (Grossmann) and a globalized perspective on the postwar (Moses), we hope to suggest some of the ground from which these very large problems may be viewed.

While our panel brings together scholars who were trained as European historians, they each seek to engage the above questions in comparative, transnational, and larger-than-European ways. Whether by their attention to legacies of colonialism and empire, to gender, or to aspects of the European transnational, they each seek to defamiliarize Europe’s twentieth-century pasts. Their focus will be on the middle third of the twentieth century. Atina Grossmann (Cooper Union) builds on her recent study of Jews, Germans, and Allies in to explore a very differently spatialized history of Jewish flight and survival. Geoff Eley (University of Michigan) sets the massive population movements of the 1940s in the broader and deeper contexts of an imperial Europe in the twentieth century. Finally, Dirk Moses (European University Institute) proposes a global context for understanding forced population movements in their relation to processes of statemaking explicitly situated in Europe’s imperial past. Wendy Lower (Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich) author of Nazi Empire Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine (2005) will be the chair. Commentary will be given by Tara Zahra (University of Chicago), author of Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands 1900-1948 (2008).

Given the powerful contemporary resonances of this topic, we are confident that the panel will provoke a great deal of debate. Our ambition is to create a framework conducive to discussion both thoughtful and comparative.

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