Good timing is a funny thing. This semester I developed and taught a class called “Politics of Genocide”. I didn’t plan for it to coincide with the Armenian genocide’s 100th anniversary, but today’s Remembrance Day may help to reinforce what they have learned. I haven’t reflected much on the class because it has been a whirlwind semester for many reasons. But I thought it would be good to write out my thoughts.
To give you a bit of background, this class was based in the political science department, but it had a international and global studies marker to encourage students from IGS to take it. Most were political science majors, but I had a few English, history and psychology majors too. Because it was a higher-level class, most were juniors and seniors. Many of them were also former students from my introduction to international relations class. It was supposed to be a smaller group, but I ended up with 38 students in the end. A bit larger than I would have liked.
My goal was an interdisciplinary experience with a good amount of history and political science, but then a smattering of psychology and anthropology. I had guest lecturers for some parts, mostly from history. I decided to use a case study approach borrowed from Scott Straus for my structure, which meant there was A LOT of history. At some points the amount caused frustration for my political science majors, especially when we discussed Yugoslavia, but they persevered. I don’t usually say this, but it was definitely good for them.
Why did I develop this course? My background in Yugoslavia was the starting point. I also knew that there would be quite a few professors around campus who specialize in different areas (Rwanda, Nuremberg, the Holocaust, Cambodia, etc) and that I could potentially draw on their expertise. Ultimately, we don’t have a course like this at UNCG. We each teach in our own little areas, but no one is doing a broad cross-country comparison of genocide. Plus I thought it would be fun. Because I’m insane like that.
Why a librarian teaching a course? Um, why not is my sarcastic answer. I have the qualifications, I have the interest, and I am willing to spend my time grading. But seriously, teaching this course as a librarian has helped me have a deeper understanding of what resources we have and what holes are in our collections. One of those holes was early scholarship on the Armenian genocide. I don’t think this was an intentional oversight, but came from a lack of awareness and assumptions about research interests on our campus. Teaching a course in my subject area and being a librarian are complementary roles and I am a better librarian and instructor because of it.
What have been the major outcomes? The most interesting one is the awareness factor. Most of my students had never heard of the Armenian genocide. As they read the news today about the Armenian genocide, they can approach the topic and the debate with more awareness and knowledge. Most of them hadn’t understood the limitations of the Genocide Convention or the lack of US response to most of the major atrocities (Rwanda, Cambodia, etc). Many of them understand better that gaining a position of power means you have “interests” that interfere (you can hide behind) with ideals (President Obama and Ambassador Power). In short, they’ve learned some depressing realities. But they’ve also learned the world is more complex than our media portrays and our politicians acknowledge. My goal is that they will stand up the next time a Clinton claims ignorance of genocide and say NO. STOP. LYING.
How does it end? Here is what I plan to tell them next week when we say good bye:
If you think that nothing can be done and all is hopeless, then you haven’t been paying attention. I hope you’ve learned that the world is complex and you can’t take for granted the official stories or myths. You need to approach what we are told with a critical eye, especially regarding the U.S.’s engagement with the world.Also there is lots to be done. These are some activist organizations you can work with. Letter writing for Darfur is ongoing. The local public library works closely with refugee communities and others fleeing atrocities. You can teach English, you can provide child care, you can help them apply for jobs.Finally you can spread awareness of our history and the history of the world around you. Tell people these stories. Let them know the definition of genocide. Keep educating yourselves and help educate others.