Major Seminar



Spring 2014

HIST 4501 (4)

Major Seminar

"Genocide"

John Ashbrook

Massacres and forced migrations are not unique to the 20th century.  However, the 20th century is unique in genocidal and ethnically motivated actions.  Ethnic and national awareness, in part stemming from the Enlightenment project of the 18th century, spread across much of the globe, and differences between peoples (often imagined or invented) were used by firebrands to create tension and hatred.  Advancements in technology, including the media, allowed for the more systematic and efficient identification and elimination of certain groups and mass participation in the implementation of genocide and ethnic cleansing.  We will explore a number of genocidal events in the 20th century, including the most unusual of events, the Holocaust, since it sparked the birth of genocide studies and an intense debate on international human rights.  We will delve into issues that deal not only with the experiences of the victims, but those of the perpetrators to understand how and why they acted in such a barbaric manner.  Because perpetrators define difference in a number of ways, this course illuminates issues of class, ethnicity, ethics, and religion.  Furthermore, by examining a number of genocidal events in Europe, this course challenges the concept that the West is somehow immune to episodes of barbarity in the 20th century.  In fact, one may postulate that such barbarities originated in modern Europe, forcing students to question the “project of modernity,” to explore the meaning of “human rights,” and to critically examine prejudice and stereotypes.

Since the course deals with extremely brutal and wide-ranging historical episodes, students must make the commitment to participate actively in all classroom discussions and be prepared for dialog with both the professor and their peers.  To ensure active participation, daily reading summaries are due in first five minutes of class.

Requirements and evaluation:

Prospectus (600 words not including working bibliography)                               10%

Book review (1200 words on a book directly relevant to your research)              10%

Primary source analysis (1200 words analyzing at least three primary docs)        10%

Final research paper (approximately 25 pages)                                                      40%

            Please note that a mandatory rough draft will be due 2 weeks before the final

Discussion, daily summaries, and active participation                                            20%

Lecture on selected genocide                                                                                   10%

Required Texts:

  • Rosenbaum, Is the Holocaust unique? Westview Press, 2009, ISBN: 9780813344065
  • Robert Gellately and Ben Kiernan (eds.), The Specter of Genocide: Mass murder in historical perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
  • Two other texts will be assigned but cannot be included because they will not be released until November.



Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904



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