Human Rights, Forced Migrations, Genocides: Making Links, Broadening the Conversation

AHA Session 15
Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Empire Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
A. Dirk Moses, European University Institute
A. Dirk Moses, European University Institute

Session Abstract

“Genocide studies” first emerged as a field of promise and prominence twenty years ago. Historians have played a major role in developing the field, but more striking is its interdisciplinary character. Often, studies of genocides and forced migrations have flowed into one another, no doubt because the two processes are so often linked historically. Until recently, the study of human rights was dominated by political scientists and legal scholars. But in the last few years a critical historical literature on human rights has emerged, and it is rapidly reshaping a field that is also inherently interdisciplinary.

Genocides and forced migrations are fundamentally about discrete populations as the objects of state policies or colonial settler activities. Rights regimes are also fundamentally about the way categories of people – white and black, men and women, citizens and non-citizens, children and adults – are handled by states and societies. But the two historiographies, on genocides and forced migrations on the one hand, on human rights on the other, both of recent vintage, both focused on populations, have emerged as two virtually distinct scholarly fields that rarely speak to one another.

The proposed session, “Human Rights, Forced Migrations, Genocides: Making Links, Broadening the Conversation,” seeks to advance both interdisciplinary fields of inquiry by exploring the connections between them. All the panelists have published widely on these topics. Each of the presenters will discuss his or her research on a specific historical topic, and will use the empirical work to reflect on the connections, historical and scholarly, among genocides, forced migrations, and human rights.

Alon Confino (UVA) presents research on the foundation of Israel and the forced migration of Palestinians in 1948. Confino explores, via five aerial photos, how Tantura, an Arab village whose inhabitants were expelled by Jews in 1948, changed after the war, when young Israeli Jews established a kibbutz. He intentionally goes beyond conventional history writing because to write a history, certainly one of 1948, without an act of imagination is an intellectual and emotional dead end. Sarah D. Shields (UNC) explores the two post-World War I treaties, Sèvres and Lausanne, that dealt with the Ottoman lands to argue that the League of Nations’ effort to protect minorities led, ironically, to expulsions and disenfranchisements. Eric D. Weitz (CCNY) presents on the aftermaths of the genocides of the Herero and Nama and of the Armenians and Assyrians. He argues that new rights regimes in Southwest Africa and Anatolia were intrinsically linked to the atrocities committed in the name of race and nation. Tara Zahra (Chicago) presents on the links between humanitarianism and ethnic cleansing by arguing that in the 1930s a broad consensus emerged in this period about the need to remove Jews from Eastern Europe in the name of humanitarian values. These schemes built on East European emigration policies and colonial aspirations dating back to the late nineteenth century. Dirk Moses, chair and commentator, considers the implications of these four topics for the scholarly fields of genocide studies and human rights research.

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