The subject matter, while horrifying on the surface, is so widely
applicable that it is cross-listed under fivefivecourses.
Thats the most Emory College has seen for as long as anyone
can remember. The title?
Genocide and Its Meanings: Rwanda and Nazi Germany.
MES 375/ANT 385S/ANT 585/AFS 385S/JS 730: Thats Middle Eastern
studies, anthropology (twice), African studies and Jewish studies.
Thirteen undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled. Mix
in 12 faculty membersincluding the two professors who teach
it, anthropologys Donald Donham and Middle Eastern studies
Shalom Goldmanas part of the Sawyer Seminar, and the course
becomes an eclectic mix unlike any other on campus this semester.
Genocide and Its Meanings is the second in a three-seminar
series of Sawyer Seminars, funded through a grant from the Andrew
Mellon Foundation and led by the Institute of African Studies, which
helped secure the grant with assistance from the Graduate School
of Arts and Sciences and then-Dean Bobby Paul. Some grant money
also funds summer research by seminar participants.
The first seminar compared everyday violence and criminality in
post-apartheid South Africa and post-communist Russia, and the third
seminar will explore religiously based conflicts in present-day
Nigeria and India.
We wanted to do African cases of conflict, but then we also
wanted to compare them to non-African cases, said Donham,
professor of anthropology and director of African studies. We
thought the comparison was important because Africa has kind of
fallen off the map.
The idea was to pick a structurally similar conflict from
outside of Africa to put in dialogue within Africa, he continued.
Genocide and Its Meanings grew out of a course Goldman
taught on literature and the Holocaust. I was eager to have
a comparative way of talking about this because, as Don and I have
discussed, there is a kind of isolationist or uniqueness paradigm
in speaking about the Nazi murders, said Goldman, associate
professor of Middle Eastern studies. I wanted to try and disturb
that a bit and look at [Rwanda and the Nazis] together.
One of the seminars highlights is its guest speakers. For
the first session, Jan. 24, Catherine Newberry, a political science
professor at Smith College, presented an overview of approaches
to study the Rwandan genocide (Goldman followed with a similar discussion
on studying the Nazi Holocaust).
Future speakers include Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern
Jewish and Holocaust Studies and director of the Institute for Jewish
Studies; Charles Ntampaka, a Rwandan lawyer; and David NewberryCatherines
husbanda history professor at Smith College.
Class time is pretty straightforward. At one recent meeting the
class discussed the book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow
We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda, by
Philip Gourevich, a staff writer at The New Yorker. Graduate
student Alicia Decker gave her account of the book, then was followed
by Heike Schmidt, a Sawyer postdoctoral fellow in African studies,
then Bruce Knauft, Samuel Dobbs Professor of Anthropology. Decker,
Schmidt and Knauft were given a week to prepare their 1015
Each review not only dissected the book in stylistic, historic
and academic terms, but the reviewers also placed it in the big
picture of African studies in general and Rwanda specifically. Most
of the discussion was positive. Schmidt even went so far as to call
Gourevichs book, the best book Ive ever read on
After the reviews, seminar members discussed the subject for nearly
an hour. Graduate students and faculty members (who come from disciplines
as diverse as anthropology, English and art history) made most of
the early comments, but the undergraduates began chiming in the
latter half of the class period.
This particular seminar meeting, both Donham and Goldman noted,
was a little atypical in that there wasnt a guest speaker
and much of the conversation was geared toward Rwanda only. There
was some comparison to Nazi Germany (how the genocide was state
sponsored, how the rest of the world largely ignored the situation,
whether there was a Hitler in Rwanda), but not as much
as in other sessions. Tuesday classes, which do not involve faculty
members, are often quite comparative.
The fact that the upper-level undergraduates were able to make
points is something that pleased Goldman. The seminars are geared
toward graduate students and faculty members, and the undergraduates
inclusion is an innovative step. They can sometimes be a little
intimidated, Goldman said, and he hopes and expects their participation
Including the Gourevich book, class members are required to read
seven booksfour of them focused on the Holocaust in Europe
and three on Rwanda. Each case presented a different set of challenges:
On the European side, it was selecting a handful of works from the
scores that have been written on the subject. On the African side,
it was finding worthy books on a subject that has not been widely
Grading is based on written responses to the readings, class participation
and a 2025-page research paper that must be turned in stage
To be able to do something like thissomething experimental
and out of the ordinarydepends on all of our guests coming
in and so forth, Donham said. We could have only done
this with a grant, as well as the cooperation of our departments.