This October, I’ve moved on to a permanent lecturer (assistant professor) position with the Scottish Oral History Centre and Department of History at the University of Strathclyde. Going forward, I’ll be maintaining my current research on post-conflict Rwanda and Uganda, but also adding regular teaching and administrative responsibilities, and supervising students. In particular, I’m looking forward to co-teaching a module on Oral History Methods and Theory with Angela Bartie starting in January 2014. I’ll also be designing special topics on The History of Genocide since 1915 and Oral History and Digital Media.
As part of my formal introduction to my new community at the University of Strathclyde, this evening I’m giving a seminar on “Oral History and Mass Atrocities.” The abstract follows:
Oral historians have made and continue to make important contributions to understanding past episodes of genocide and other crimes against humanity and war crimes, such as the 1915 Armenian genocide and the Holocaust. Yet, contemporary mass atrocities are largely the domain of legal theorists, political scientists, and related practitioners whose interest in the individuals whose lives have been intimately affected by violence is often limited to procuring testimonial evidence in support of some larger goal, such as promoting international humanitarian law or enabling foreign policy shifts.
Convinced of its potential to illuminate the vast social, political and historical contexts that influenced the emergence and progression of mass atrocities and their interpretation over time, in the past decade a handful of oral historians have begun applying oral historical methods and theory to the study of contemporary mass atrocities, eliciting the perspectives of the people who endure them, whether as survivors, bystanders, perpetrators or all of the above. These initial forays into contemporary mass atrocities have proved incredibly fruitful, but simultaneously raise a host of concerns regarding the particular ethical and methodological challenges of conducting research amid the often highly politicized climate that surrounds violence. This presentation will draw upon fieldwork conducted in Rwanda, Uganda, and Bosnia-Herzegovina to discuss some of these challenges, from navigating government and community gatekeepers, to minimizing harm for informants amid high levels of government surveillance and interference. What, if anything, can be done to minimize negative attention from the government and pursue more collaborative and mutually beneficial research relationships? In instances where government or community-based institutions are perceived as subjecting researchers and the people whose narratives they seek to document to unreasonable or dangerous demands, is it ever appropriate to practice deception? And finally, at what point must oral historians accept defeat and acknowledge that it is impossible to conduct fieldwork related to mass atrocities in an ethical and safe manner?
Feel free to join the conversation at 5:30pm in the Scottish Oral History Centre, Curran Building, Level 6.