Dr Rebecca Jinks - Lecturer in Modern History
I am a historian of twentieth-century genocide and humanitarianism, with particular specialisms in the Armenian genocide and the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and humanitarian responses to them. I tend to approach these from a social and cultural historical angle; I’m interested in the experiences and actions of ordinary people (within the context of state violence or humanitarian operations), in gendered histories, and in how we can use photographs and non-standard sources to gain deeper or different insights into historical processes and events. These approaches make their way into my courses on genocide, the history of humanitarianism, and in fact most classes I teach!
What do you think of when someone mentions ‘genocide’? My first book, Representing Genocide, explored how the best-known genocide – the Holocaust – has influenced how other genocides are represented and understood. Comparing representations of the Armenian, Cambodian, Bosnian and Rwandan genocides, across film, literature, photography, and memorialisation, I showed that the Holocaust often functions as a kind of ‘template’ for the representation of other genocides. But what is the effect of this? Does genocide always happen or ‘look like’ the Holocaust? Paradoxically, it seems, we are less able to recognise other genocides – past and present – because of this omnipresent ‘template’.
While I was working on Representing Genocide, I accepted the first Raphael Lemkin scholarship at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city. During my month’s stay, I came across six stunning photograph albums from the 1920s, belonging to the Danish aid worker Karen Jeppe. They charted her work in Aleppo and the surrounding Syrian desert, where – as a representative of the League of Nations – she took in Armenian women and children who had been ‘absorbed’ into Turkish, Kurdish, or Bedouin households during the genocide of 1915. Some of the photographs depicted women who had been tattooed on their faces and hands, according to Bedouin custom; Jeppe was now helping these women to rejoin the Armenian community, but their histories were indelibly marked on their faces. The fate of these tattooed women, and interwar humanitarian workers’ treatment of them, became my second research project. The resulting article, ‘“Marks Hard to Erase”’, is definitely the most challenging I’ve written so far. It was such a taboo subject that there were very few sources to go on – more silences than discussions, as most aid workers preferred to ignore these “problematic” women. I’m now extending this project into a longer one, comparing this case with another quite similar one from the same region, almost exactly a century later – the capture and enslavement of Yezidi women by ISIS in 2014.
I’m also starting a new project funded by the British Academy, an oral history of British fire fighters who volunteered to drive decommissioned fire engines and equipment down through Europe to the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The wars destroyed many cities, including those cities’ fire services; under Operation Florian, the charity set up to coordinate this work, volunteers made hundreds of trips to deliver equipment. I’m interviewing these volunteers to explore their motivations, experiences, and the professional solidarities that drove them to risk their lives in this war zone.
At the same time, with my colleague Dan Stone, I’m turning my Special Subject course on genocide into a source reader. It aims to introduce students to fifteen different cases of genocide, via primary documents; what’s key to it is that it uses as wide a variety of sources as possible. That includes the usual state documents, witness testimonies, and court trial documents – but also photographs, maps, satellite imagery, and even forensic reports. I hope that both students, and the wider field of genocide studies, will benefit from this hugely rich mix of sources.
More information about my research is available via PURE
Email - Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org