Jonathan Reynolds (Professor of History, Northern Kentucky University)
February 12, 2015
The study of 20th-century history provides us with an enigmatic contrast. Most casual American observers view the last century as a time of great technological and social progress. And doubtless, technological advances in medicine and transportation, social movements such as decolonization, civil rights and the women’s movement, and communications revolutions resulting in globalization improved human life in a number of ways. Yet, in stark contrast, the 20th century also stands out also as a century of genocide. Most scholars agree that 20th-century genocides cost far more lives than did even such epic conflicts as WWI and WWII.
This seminar will examine exactly how genocides came to be such a defining element of the 20th century. In so doing, the discussion will focus on how two of the 20th century’s most influential ideas, the notions of nation and race, played a role in fostering one of the greatest forms of human evil. Specific topics to be addressed will include the legal and scholarly definitions of genocide, the history of genocide prior to the 1900s, an examination of selected case studies of genocide from across the 20th century and around the world, and an analysis of international efforts to eradicate the practice of genocide.