Research Chair on the aftermath of genocide 

By Karen Herland

Understanding mass violence in terms of its cultural impact and the effect it has on places and people is the research focus of Erica Lehrer, Concordia’s Canada Research Chair in the History of Genocide.

“The history of genocide does not stop when the killing stops,” Lehrer said in a recent email interview while attending a conference in the U.S. She is particularly interested in the creation and circulation of stories and attempts at reconciliation among members of conflicted communities. Her research concentrates on tourism, museums/heritage, and memorialization.

Lehrer joined the history department earlier this year, although the CRC position and CFI funding were just announced. Her background has been primarily in anthropology, but her expertise complements existing strengths within the department.

“They were looking for a scholar whose work spoke to their cluster of topical interests rather than being focused on disciplinary boundaries,” she said, joking about what a “forward-thinking” history department it is.

Lehrer’s doctoral research on Jewish memory in Poland is being developed into a book. The thesis involved 18 months of ethnographic research in late 1999 through to 2001, supplemented by shorter trips over the past 15 years. Her work acknowledges the impact of the Holocaust on how the Jewish past is remembered in Poland, but considers how the country is becoming “a broader Jewish heritage site.”

The Centre for Ethnographic Research and Exhibition in the aftermath of Violence (CEREV) will be established with Lehrer’s CFI funding. “CEREV will enable curatorial experiments with which to explore ethnographically the meanings of genocide, tolerance, representation and reconciliation among Montreal’s post-conflict communities.”

This will allow students and faculty to “explore ways of ‘curating’ their research results in multimedia formats, communicating other layers of meaning and making it accessible to broader publics.” It will also challenge traditional notions of academic production and authority representing the “final word” by opening the door for dialogue, ongoing interaction and re-adaptations of how material is presented and received.

Lehrer herself is exploring these notions with a set of “conversation maps” that are offered alongside traditional tourist maps and pamphlets. Her materials direct people to a web site that addresses ideas about Poland with maps, text and podcasts presenting “conflicting claims on culture and the past, and the power and mythologization of place in collective memory.”

She is involved in the CURA oral history project currently operating within the History Department, but is also interested in the project itself as an object of study.

“Comparing and sharing narratives of suffering that are deep and central to particular communities’ senses of self can be fraught, especially when not all cases of victimhood are given equal recognition or legitimation by the public at large.” She is particularly intrigued by the project’s commitment to bring together people from different regions with different experiences of conflict.


Concordia University