Archive: ‘Genocide’

New Publication: Managing danger in oral historical fieldwork

Friday, September 1st, 2017

The latest issue of Oral History Review has just been published, and it includes my new article on ‘Managing Danger in Oral Historical Fieldwork.’ This article has been on my to-write list for some time now, and is informed by the fieldwork that I’ve done since 2007 in conflict-affected settings, such as post-genocide Rwanda and Bosnia, where state-level actors often regard the study of history as politically provocative. I evaluate an interdisciplinary body of literature on anticipating and managing danger in qualitative fieldwork with the specific needs of oral historians in mind. However, while the article speaks to the best practices that oral historians can apply and adapt when working in overtly dangerous settings or on potentially provocative subject matter, it’s also intended to benefit oral historians who work on low-risk projects, but nonetheless find themselves unwittingly caught up in interpersonal conflict, political upheaval, or even mass violence.

The article’s overarching purpose is to encourage oral historians to thoroughly consider the dangers to which they are exposed in the course of undertaking fieldwork in various settings, alongside the more commonly discussed dangers that research participants encounter. I argue ‘[w]e owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our students and colleagues to engage with the various harms to which we are exposed in the course of our research and to approach this research with an informed understanding of the potential impact it can have on us and our personal and professional relationships. Likewise, we need to continue to assess and adapt our best practices in order to mitigate these harms, if for no other reason than to allow us to engage with this difficult subject matter long-term and, we hope, with greater benefit to the people and communities with whom we work.’ This argument emerges from the realisation that as the field of oral history potentially moves away from institutional review in the United States, it is time to initiate a conversation on the full range of potential harms and worst-case scenarios that oral historians should be prepared to negotiate, regardless of the location or subject of their research, particularly as oral historical studies of political violence in its various manifestations is becoming more common.

New position: Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow in History at the University of Glasgow

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

I’m excited to announce that this July, I’ll be moving to a new position in History at the University of Glasgow. I’ve accepted a three-year contract as a Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow, and will be launching a new research program on Armed Conflict and Trauma. I’ll be continuing my work on Rwanda, but in addition will be focusing on a new research project: “Toward an Oral History of Mass Atrocities: Beyond Trauma and Healing in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Canada.” I’ll continue to work closely with the Scottish Oral History Centre as a Research Associate, and will also be developing new international research networks and collaborations. My email address after 1 July 2017 will be

New Book Review: Mobilizing Transnational Gender Politics in Post-Genocide Rwanda by Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

The Journal of Modern African Studies has just published my latest book review on Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel’s Mobilizing Transational Gender Politics in Post-Genocide Rwanda. This book is essential reading for those individuals who are interested in gender equality practices and policies in Rwanda. It offers a nuanced middle-ground between popular media accounts that celebrate the nation for its impressive inclusion of women in politics–most notably, the fact that 64% of seats in Rwanda’s parliament are curently held by women making it a world leader on women’s representation in domestic politics–and academic accounts that warn that while Rwandan women elites are making notable progress, rural Rwandan women still face significant challenges in their everyday lives. Mageza-Barthel does this by bringing interviews with women political activists who were intimately involved in high-level negotiations with the international community and the Rwandan government into conversation with important shifts in international and domestic policies aimed at promoting gender equality. In the process, her analysis tells us much, not only about how integral these political actors were for influencing Rwanda’s current gender equality policies, but also how they were able to impact present-day norms supported by the United Nations and other international institutions, successfully challenging ‘women’s invisibility in theories of how politics is done’ (p.17).



New Publication: Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017


I’m pleased to announce that my book, Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History, has just been published with Palgrave Macmillan’s Studies in Oral History series. As a major revisionist monograph of relevance for oral historians, Africanists, genocide scholars, and human rights practitioners, it refocuses the historiography of modern Rwanda, which is dominated by Euro-American studies of the genocide, on popular understandings of Rwanda’s past, drawing upon life history and thematic interviews with Rwandan officials, survivors, bystanders, former combatants, and convicted perpetrators. Throughout, it engages with critical questions about a relatively recent shift in the practice of oral history: namely, the application of oral historical methods to the study of mass atrocities.

Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda begins with an overview of the Rwandan government’s official history surrounding the 1994 genocide, which claims that over one million of the nation’s ethnic Tutsi minority population were murdered by ethnic Hutu extremists motivated by virulent anti-Tutsi hatred. This official history oversimplifies the genocide—dividing the population into innocent Tutsi victims and guilty Hutu perpetrators—to legitimize the predominantly Tutsi regime that currently controls Rwanda’s government. It is disseminated to the public through genocide memorials and other transitional justice mechanisms, and a strict law against promoting ‘genocide ideology’ prohibits public contradiction.

However, the main purpose of the book is to examine how Rwandans from different sides of the conflict relate to this official history. I argue that memorial staff, rural genocide survivors, convicted perpetrators, and other cohorts within Rwandan society rarely find their experiences of the genocide, and Rwandan history more broadly, reflected in the current official history. Furthermore, in probing their complex life histories, I reveal a powerful reservoir of not only ethnic tensions—as is commonly argued—but also regional, political, and social tensions around different events in Rwandan history. Of particular importance, I find that these tensions undermine many Rwandans’ willingness to engage in initiatives aimed at facilitating post-genocide social repair and transitional justice, and suggest further political instability is possible. Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda thus calls into question many of the assumed benefits of transitional justice in post-conflict contexts, particularly those that are dominated by authoritarian regimes.


New Book Review: Listening on the Edge edited by Mark Cave and Stephen Sloan

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

In advance of the next issue of Oral History Review, the journal has published my review of Mark Cave and Stephen Sloan’s new edited volume Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis (2014) online. To summarize, Listening on the Edge is essential reading for anyone engaged in the practice of oral history in conflict and post-conflict settings, and is particularly valuable for its ability to provoke readers to think through some of the particular ethical and methodological challenges of this kind of research, as well as the potential insights and benefits that it might produce. In the review, I provide a brief summary of each of the volume’s chapters, but this by no means does justice to their importance for the field, nor does it serve as an adequate substitute for a full and careful reading of the volume as a whole. Taken together, I argue that “Listening on the Edge advances the literature on the practice and ethics of crisis oral history by taking readers through the various negotiations that are often inherent in this work. Among its most important contributions, it offers insights on working with witnesses of traumatic events; the necessary distinctions between the often overlapping fields of oral history, psychology, and journalism; the dangers of vicarious trauma and other forms of emotional distress for the interviewer(s); and the necessity of bringing multiple experiences into conversation to reconstruct and comprehend how crises affect peoples’ lives. In doing so, the volume clearly demonstrates the many benefits that can emerge from applying oral history methods and theory to the study of crises, while simultaneously exploring the subfield’s potential pitfalls and limitations. That each chapter is grounded in interview excerpts, bringing interviewees’ voices into conversation with the oral historians’ analysis, is a particular strength of this volume.”


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