Sites and Sources of Memory

The 3rd Dr Jan Randa Conference in Holocaust and Genocide Studies was introduced with a question which underpinned much of the conference: the question of the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the subsequent legitimacy of using it as a launching pad or reference point from which to discuss other genocides.

Professor Andrew Benjamin raised the concerns of many when he questioned whether this whole debate is destined to remain ‘painfully abstract’.  Yet the conference as a whole proved the very opposite. With scholars from around the world coming together from numerous areas of genocide studies as well as other areas of specialisation, the inconclusiveness of these ongoing questions about the validity of comparative genocide studies proved no hindrance to a dynamic and fruitful ongoing scholarly conversation.

What emerged was the strength of an interdisciplinary approach to genocide studies which draws on the wealth of research so clearly displayed in this year’s conference.  From historians and theologians to scholars involved in film and media studies, the conference highlighted how academics involved in genocide studies are continually forced to engage in a more practical and public field which confronts the way history is captured and communicated for generations to come.

This imbues every question raised at the conference with a real import and the academics raising them a weighty responsibility: as they discuss and debate questions about archival formation and maintenance, the making and meaning of monuments and memorials, the present and future of museums, the collection and preservation of testimonies and the use of film and literature, scholars involved in genocide studies not only discuss the sites and sources of history and memory, but define, determine and frame their very future.

Above all, the conference underscored the evolving reality in which scholars of genocide studies cannot confine themselves to an isolated academic world; rather they are continually called upon in the practical field and deferred to as expert consultants and respected authorities as the uneven terrain of genocide memory and memorialisation is negotiated.

In this context, academic debate simply cannot be ‘painfully abstract’ for it carries a serious responsibility for the practical implementation and realisation of any theory propagated in a conference room.   It is this that made the 3rd Jan Randa Conference such an exceptional display of academia as all those who participated in the debate and discussion had clearly risen to this challenge with an acute sense of their responsibility in giving shape and meaning to genocidal aftermath.

Katrina Skwarek