Not Just History: Strategies for Teaching about Genocide


A new book offers strategies for teaching community college students about genocide by connecting the history of mass atrocities to contemporary issues, social justice, the arts, and other interdisciplinary approaches. The book, Humanistic Pedagogy Across the Disciplines: Approaches to Mass Atrocity Education in the Community College Context, was written by instructors at CUNY’s Queensborough Community College.

“We didn’t propose to create more Holocaust or genocide courses; instead, we aimed to encourage faculty to incorporate this content into existing courses,” said QCC Professor Amy Traver, co-editor of the book. The resulting courses span English, history, psychology, criminal justice, dance, and many other disciplines.

The courses and approaches outlined in the book grew out of an annual series of events funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Community College Challenge grant, in partnership with the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, which is located on the QCC campus.

The first section of the book looks at theoretical foundations for four pedagogical approaches to teaching about mass atrocity: arts-based, textual, outcomes-based, and social justice. In the second section, instructors reflect on the design and execution of their courses. For example, Professor Susan Jacobowitz, in her chapter “Social Justice Approaches to Mass Atrocity Education,” said that “it isn’t enough to shock students with what happened in the past.” Instead, she encourages “students to make the strongest and most powerful connections possible” by relating coursework “to their own societies, communities, families, and lives.”

Jacobowitz noted that QCC’s students include “nearly equal populations” of African-American, Asian, Caucasian, and Latino students, representing 139 nations and 87 languages. Few have personal connections to the Holocaust, yet “many know what it is like to have to escape war or persecution … to deal with discrimination or being targeted because of race, sexual orientation, or religion.” Jacobowitz also encourages students to reflect “on comparisons between what is happening in the United States now during the Trump administration and the rise of Adolf Hitler … particularly as it pertains to rhetoric and the targeting of group and individuals.”

Other chapters in the book describe:

  • A criminology course on genocide, mass incarceration, and restorative justice that explored testimonials from formerly incarcerated women
  • An English 101 class deconstructing “hate speech” along with “creative efforts to reframe” the texts to “promote tolerance”
  • A class in public speaking where students studied the history and lives of North American indigenous peoples
  • A collaboration between English and dance courses that explored concepts of discrimination, surveillance, and hierarchies of power. Student narratives about personal experiences of being publicly observed were transformed into dance
  • A class for English language learners who read a memoir of the Bosnian civil war

Beyond SUM

Buy This Book

Explore This Work
Humanistic Pedagogy Across the Disciplines: Approaches to Mass Atrocity Education in the Community College Context
Palgrave, 2018

Work By
Amy E. Traver (Associate Professor of Sociology) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
Queensborough Community College

Bonus Content
“National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant” (QCC News)
““Humanistic Pedagogy Across the Disciplines”: Volume Home” (QCC Library)

Related Terms

Beyond SUM