Center Co-organizes Graduate Student Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies

From left to right: Martha Stroud, Ryan Cheuk Him Sun, Charlotte Gibbs, Barnabas Balint, Wolf Gruner

From October 16-19, 2023, 33 graduate students and early postdoctoral scholars from 15 countries presented their research at the Fifth International Graduate Student Conference on Holocaust and Genocide Studies, hosted by the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, and co-organized by the Strassler Center, the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, and the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research. The scholars’ disciplines include History, Law, Sociology, Art History, Jewish Studies, Social Psychology, Cultural Studies, and Turkish Studies, with many scholars pursuing interdisciplinary research.

Across eleven panels, the research of the presenters touched on a wide range of themes, geographies, and case studies, mostly focused on the Holocaust, but also including presentations about the Armenian, Rwandan, and Guatemalan genocides. The themes of the panels included passing and social integration; childhood and youth; food, humor, and ritual; sexual violence and abortion; perpetrators; art, visuality, and graffiti; space and movement; collective identities; and refugees and rescue, among other topics. These scholars are exploring a multitude of geographies in their work on the Holocaust, including Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, Mexico, Norway, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Ethiopia.

Throughout the conference, there was a significant emphasis on the discussion of sources and methods. In their projects, these scholars are relying on a breadth of sources, including archival documents, ego documents such as letters and diaries, survivor testimonies, as well as visual sources like art and photographs. There was a wide range of methodologies represented as well, including archival research, ethnographic interviews, participant observation, and digital humanities techniques, including GIS mapping, among others. Several presentations powerfully illustrated how USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive testimonies are contributing to new understandings of the history of the Holocaust.

In addition to the presenters in the audience, the conference was well-attended by Strassler Center faculty and students, scholars from Yad Vashem attending on Zoom from Israel, and a team from the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research. Each panel was followed by lively question and answer sessions where the presenters were able to share more about their projects. These lively discussions continued over the breaks and meals during the conference as well.

Wendy Lower (Claremont McKenna College) opened the conference with a keynote lecture entitled “A Past, Present and Future of Holocaust History.” In the lecture, she traced and reflected on the development of the study of the Holocaust, highlighting many of the approaches, sources, and topics explored as the field has grown over time. She pointed towards a number of different themes that would come up throughout the conference, demonstrating how the graduate scholarship to be presented over the coming days is continuing to advance the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Center Founding Director Wolf Gruner and Associate Director Martha Stroud chaired panels at the conference. Center Graduate Assistant Charlotte Gibbs attended the conference, participating in discussions. During the conference, past Center fellows Barnabas Balint (PhD candidate in History, University of Oxford, Magdalen College, UK) and Ryan Cheuk Him Sun (PhD candidate in History, University of British Columbia, Canada) shared their research. Balint, the 2021-2022 Breslauer, Rutman, and Anderson Research Fellow, presented a paper entitled “‘He has earned the Zionist idea unprecedented honor & respect’: Jewish Youth Groups, Zionism, and Otto Komoly during the Holocaust in Hungary.” Sun, the 2022-2023 Breslauer, Rutman, and Anderson Research Fellow, presented a paper entitled “Transiting the British Colonies: Jewish Refugees’ Experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore (1938-1941).” A couple of scholars who presented at the “Knowledge on the Move” research workshop that the Center hosted in April 2022 also shared their research at this conference, including Jonathan Lanz (Indiana University) and Tamara Gleason Freidberg (University College London, UK) .

The conference concluded with brief presentations and reflections by Taner Akçam (Director, Armenian Genocide Research Program, UCLA Promise Armenian Institute), Center Founding Director Wolf Gruner, and our colleagues from the International Institute of Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem — Dan Michman, Rob Rozett, and Sharon Kangisser Cohen — on the ways in which young researchers can engage with mass violence in the archives.