Helping Students Understand "Genocide"?

Temp Editor Peter Knupfer Discussion

The periodic international kerfuffle over the genocide of Armenians surfaced briefly in my U.S. History seminar for preservice middle and high school teachers, and it took me back to H-Genocide’s earliest days, in January and February of 2001, when the list vigorously debated various definitions and synonyms for genocide.  At the time, one metric that seemed to resurface was Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide, and it got me to wondering if it is still applicable in the field of genocide studies fourteen years later, or if it has been superceded or amended since then.  I ask because “genocide” is tossed about rather casually by my undergraduates in various contexts, from the Holocaust to the treatment of Native Americans, and Stanton’s stages of genocide might be a helpful tool for getting students to be more precise about what they describe.  The cirumstances and timing of these episodes were starkly different, so that encapsulating them within the term "genocide" without understanding those differences makes it hard for students to understand how genocide can occur in such varying contexts.  The H-Genocide debate about defining genocide, like any good academic discussion, never really ended, and morphed into further elaborations and discussions of refinements (and generalizations) about the term.  I could point my students to it, but I still wonder whether standards and definitions from back then have been substantively revised, and if so, what resource I might call upon to help these students (many of them are preservice middle- and high school teachers) grasp the subject more firmly?

Peter Knupfer, Michigan State University

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I can only say that Stanton's essay has been invaluable for me in my "Genocide in Europe and the Politics of Memory" course at the University of Mississippi. I assigned it at the beginning of the semester and students have continually made reference to it to make sense of the individual cases we studied. In that respect, it successfully integrates widely divergent cases (Armenia, Ukraine, Holocaust, Bosnia) under a single descriptive framework. As for whether there's a more analytical document that can do that, I don't know, but I'd love to hear from others about that.

Joshua First
Department of History
University of Mississippi

Dr. Knupfer, Stanton has added two categories to to his model. The model is particularly useful in a comparative genocide course.