Call for Papers for an Edited Book on Petitions Resisting Genocide: Negotiating Self-Determination and Survival in Societies under Oppression

Thomas Pegelow Kaplan's picture
Call for Publications
March 30, 2016 to May 1, 2016
Subject Fields: 
Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Human Rights, Jewish History / Studies, Law and Legal History, Modern European History / Studies

Call for Papers for an Edited Book on

Petitions Resisting Genocide: Negotiating Self-Determination and Survival in Societies under Oppression

Wolf Gruner (USC) and Thomas Pegelow Kaplan (ASU)

Holocaust and genocide scholarship has paid strikingly little attention to European-Jewish petitions of the 1930s and 1940s in particular or entreaties during modern genocides in general. This neglect is grounded in a limited view in some of the most influential works in the field. In his groundbreaking 1961 study The Destruction of the European Jews, Raul Hilberg, for example, focused on Jewish petitions to make his case for the alleged absence of resistance by Jewish communities. More recently-published studies have largely continued this trend or, when dealing with responses of genocide victims, concentrated on ego-documents such as diaries and letters, while ignoring petitions as largely worthless reactions of persecuted groups in oppressed societies.

This edited volume sets out to reevaluate and challenge these claims. It will conceptualize petitions as deliberate acts of individual or collective resistance. Our volume will, thus, examine to what extent and how appeals, petitions and entreaties sent by the persecuted to governments, state and municipal administrations, as well as party agencies of genocidal or dictatorial regimes, have been crucial in the struggle of these individuals and groups for self-determination, self-preservation, and survival. From indigenous groups in post-colonial Latin America to Jewish populations during the Holocaust, individuals and groups used the means of writing letters or memoranda to reclaim agency, redefine their place in society and manipulate their oppressors.

To help analyzing the act of petitioning as resistance, this volume will work with a broad understanding of resistance as well as a deliberately far-reaching concept of petitions to capture the extensive range of entreaties by populations victimized or about to be victimized in genocidal or oppressive societies. In contrast to much of the evidence of modern genocides and mass violence, petitions comprise active practices of victims and perpetrators and, thus, are inherently multi-layered. The examination of these micro-processes and intricate interactions shall produce new insights and more complex understanding of difficult negotiations of persecuted populations under murderous regimes, these men and women’s survival strategies, and the racial and political practices of the Nazi and other genocidal states.

In light of these aims, we are hoping for contributions by scholars from a wide variety of disciplines, including history, law, political science, international relations, sociology, anthropology, communication, as well as genocide, human rights and regional studies. The essays should address the following questions without being limited by them:

  • Who were the petitioners in genocidal and/or oppressed societies? Why did they resort to the instrument of entreaties?
  • Did the petitioners write the texts alone or as a collective? Did they sign them? Where they composed by professional writers or lawyers? 
  • Whom did the authors of petitions approach and why? What was the aim of the petition? Did it evolve around a protest against state discrimination, claims of property, specific rights or self-determination?
  • Can we identify ways or patterns of self-determination in various petitions of members of a group? What difference did gender dynamics and hierarchies make in the petitioning processes?
  • Did these petitions result in discernible changes? Did they have any outcome or perhaps even negative consequences?
  • What was the role of petitions in their authors’ struggles for survival?
  • To what extent did petitions in genocidal and/or oppressed societies serve to negotiate or protect the authors’ agency?
  • How were these practices of crafting entreaties embedded in the often-long histories of petitions?
  • What impact, if any, did transnational networks and exchanges have on the composition of petitions?
  • To what extent does the close examination of petitioning processes demand a rethinking of practices of (unarmed) individual and group resistance?

We welcome contributions that approach the topic empirically or from a theoretical perspective. In terms of empirically-oriented contributions, we seek to include case studies, focusing, for example, on the Holocaust in Europe or other modern genocides as well as petitioning practices in oppressed societies like the slave-holding American South, Apartheid South Africa, or twentieth-century Guatemala. In addition to studies of petitions in specific countries or regions, we encourage essays that take comparative, cross- and transnational approaches. Finally, we only accept work that has not already been published elsewhere.

Please submit an abstract of up to 400 words (including title) and a 100-word bio to both Wolf Gruner ( and Thomas Pegelow Kaplan ( by May 1, 2016.

Contact Info: 

Wolf Gruner
Director, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research
Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History
Department of History
SOS Room 262
3502 Trousdale Pkwy
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA  90089-0034

Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan
Professor of History
Leon Levine Distinguished Professor of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies
Director, Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies
Appalachian State University
P.O. Box 32146; Anne Belk Hall, Room 104
Boone, NC 28608