From the outset, historians of genocide have seen themselves as activists. Among historians of colonial societies that is what distinguishes them most in relation to indigenous peoples. An ethnographic sensibility should be visible in any such study, and the more so when a question of genocide is raised. After all, if we do not have a sense of difference between peoples we fail the test of genocide at the first hurdle. And if we do not have an ethnographic sensibility towards our own cultures (including academic cultures) we will fail to make the most of our role in affecting deeply ingrained kinds of historical consciousness. Examples from Australia make this painfully plain. Is there any chance of opening a bridge between the completely different worlds of those who profited from genocide and those who suffered for it? How can that cause be advanced inside and outside the academy? We are thriving as a sub-discipline, but where to from here? Liberating genocide into a wider discourse may be the way to connect the adventure of ethnographic history, the conceptual illumination of episodes, to the vast field of global relations the understanding of colonialism requires.


This article originated as a keynote address at the 2014 Conference of the International Association of Genocide Scholars at the University of Manitoba. I am indebted to the organizers and the participants, and to continuing discussion with colleagues.