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Remembering War, Genocide and Other Human Rights Violations: Oral History, New Media and the Arts

 

Co-sponsored by COHDS and the Montreal Life Stories CURA
November 5-8, 2009
Concordia University
 
Remembering War, Genocide and Other Human Rights Violations: Oral History, New Media and the Arts was a three-day interdisciplinary conference which brought scholars, artists, professionals and community-based researchers together to promote deep engagement with life stories that contain or are defined by experiences of mass human rights violations. Its guiding principle was a sincere commitment to public engagement.
 
The importance of this conference emerges from the realization that we live in an “age of testimony.” It is no exaggeration to say that survivor testimony has been the single most important source of information about mass human rights violations in the twentieth century. Eyewitness accounts from survivors of war, genocide and other human rights violations fill our airwaves and our bookshelves. Large Holocaust testimony projects such as Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation have recorded tens of thousands of survivors. Thousands more have told their horrific stories to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and International Tribunals in a growing number of countries, including Canada. The vantage point is that of the objective eyewitness, telling it like it was. 
 
In the case of oral history interviews, however, these difficult stories of loss should not be permitted to begin and end with the violence. Instead, emphasis is placed on deep engagement with the life story as a whole, within which experiences of mass human rights violations may be only brief. The longue durée, with the requisite attention to the “before” and “after” provides a different context in which to explore the meanings of mass violence – it becomes more deeply personal and more explicitly subjective. In cases where survivors seek refuge in foreign lands, it also becomes more self-consciously transnational as narrators recall the aftermath of violence, migration, and the challenges of starting over. What is remembered and why is profoundly influenced by ones present circumstances.
 
An anthology of this conference was edited by Steven High, Edward Little, and Thi Ry Duong:
 
“Remembering Mass Violence breaks new ground in oral history, new media, and performance studies by exploring what is at stake when we attempt to represent war, genocide, and other violations of human rights in a variety of creative works. A model of community-university collaboration, it includes contributions from scholars in a wide range of disciplines, survivors of mass violence, and performers and artists who have created works based on these events. This anthology is global in focus, with essays on Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. At its core is a productive tension between public and private memory, a dialogue between autobiography and biography, and between individual experience and societal transformation. Remembering Mass Violence will appeal to oral historians, digital practitioners and performance-based artists around the world, as well researchers and activists involved in human rights research, migration studies, and genocide studies.”

 

Concordia University