During World War II, the Nazi empire and its allies systematically murdered nearly six million Jews, with the goal of making its entire realm “clean of Jews,” to use the Nazis’ ugly terminology. Driven by a philosophy that prioritized anti-Semitism but that dehumanized other peoples as well, the Nazi Holocaust claimed millions of additional victims: Soviet soldiers and civilians, Poles, Roma and Sinti (“gypsies”), disabled people, blacks, homosexuals, and religious and political opponents.
As the Holocaust became known to the postwar world, interest was sparked in the “crime without a name”: the attempt to eradicate an entire group of people. Contemplating this particularly sinister crime, Polish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin — who lost many family members to the Holocaust and was also deeply troubled by the Armenian Genocide, which had unfolded during the First World War — coined the term “genocide” in 1943, and it was adopted by a UN convention five years later. “The word is new, the concept is ancient” wrote Leo Kuper, a pioneer in the study of genocide studies in the 1980s: The Holocaust was the most recent but neither the first nor the last such episode.
Genocide cannot always be easily distinguished from other crimes against humanity and human-rights abuses. Post-WWII atrocities in Cambodia, East Timor, Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda, and elsewhere were widely reported, but little understood — much less prevented. The repeated occurrence of genocide and the violation of fundamental human rights make discussion, investigation, and prevention more difficult, yet more crucial.
The Center for HGHR Studies advances both an academic and a public mission. The Center organizes scholarly exchange as well as community activities in order to promote research, education, and dialogue on the human proclivity to divide the world according to an “us versus them” mentality and to demonize and fear “the other,” whether perceived by ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, or sexuality. This Center will also mobilize the intellectual resources of faculty and students from multiple departments and from the community to address the social, behavioral, and cultural origins of genocide and mass violence and to better understand their consequences and legacies.
Through the Dept. of Global, International & Area Studies (GIAS), we offer a minor in Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies (HGHR), which consists of 18 hours of course credit. Please see an advisor for more information.