This article offers a new portrait of Raphael Lemkin, as a historian of mass violence. It argues that, in contrast to recent characterizations that focus on Lemkin’s methodological amateurism, Lemkin was in fact highly attentive to the “Historian’s Craft.” Moreover, he was invested in employing a specific approach in writing his global History of Genocide. This approach revolved around his interest in psychology and frequently depended upon his psychologically attentive readings of testimonies. After detailing Lemkin’s psycho-cultural approach, this article compares his use and readings of victim testimony in his writings on mass violence in Western and non-Western societies. Ultimately, it argues that Lemkin’s methodology, source material, personal biography, and calls for “psychological relativism” all offer insight into one of the central tensions underlying Lemkin’s global history: his uneven attribution of psychological complexity and thus humanity to all victims of mass violence and genocide. The article concludes by reaffirming the import of Lemkin’s legacy amidst today’s “global turn.”
I thank Carolyn Dean, Alexandra Garbarini, Heather Horn, and Claire Kiechel for their comments and questions on previous versions of this article. I also thank the participants of the Yale Modern Europe Colloquium for their feedback and Ben Kiernan for his early encouragement. My gratitude to Nancy Savage is beyond measure.
"Legible Testimonies: Raphaël Lemkin, the Victim’s Voice, and the Global History of Genocide,"
Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal:
Available at: https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/gsp/vol13/iss1/8
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