Monday-Tuesday, May 22-23, 2023 — Royce 314

Organized by Michael Rothberg, Ben Ratskoff, and Zoé Samudzi

1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies


In the late 1980s, following the famous Historikerstreit (Historians’ Debate) about the uniqueness and comparability of the Holocaust, the German-Israeli scholar Dan Diner proposed the concept of the Zivilisationsbruch, the “rupture in civilization.” With the concept of the Zivilisationsbruch, Diner sought to describe the singularity of the Nazi genocide of European Jews as a rupture with basic post-Enlightenment assumptions of rationality, utility, and universality. While Diner’s conception continues to hold weight in both scholarly and public discussions of the Holocaust, scholars working in different traditions have asked if other histories of violence—not least those deriving from colonialism and slavery—do not also constitute ruptures in modernity. This conference will interrogate histories and memories of political violence comparatively in order to put such posited “breaks” or ruptures into relation. It will explore the possibilities and limits of thinking colonial and fascist forms of violence together and ask how comparative and relational approaches might help us reconsider the historical and ongoing role of racialization in Western modernity as well as the concept of “civilization” itself.

In order to address such questions, “Civilization Breaks: Colonialism, Slavery, and the Holocaust” will convene a group of scholars open to rigorous and respectful exchange about these matters. While journalistic venues and blogs have been full of impassioned debates in recent years—not least in Germany, where a so-called Historikerstreit 2.0 has been underway since 2020—this conference will serve as an opportunity for collective reflection and substantive exchange beyond such polemical interventions.

Frank Biess (UCSD)
Mirjam Brusius (German Historical Institute London)
J Kameron Carter (Indiana University)
Sultan Doughan
(Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Clark University)
Fatima El-Tayeb (Yale University)
Jie-Hyun Lim (Sogang University, Seoul)
Sima Luipert (Deputy Chairperson of the Nama Traditional Leaders Association Technical Committee on Genocide, Namibia)
Dirk Moses (City College of New York)
Vaughn Rasberry (Stanford)
Sonali Thakkar (NYU)
Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London)
Parisa Vaziri (Cornell University)


Monday, May 22

10:30-11:00: Coffee

11:00-11:15: Introductions/Welcome

11:15-12:45: First panel

12:45-1:45: Lunch

1:45-3:15: Second panel

3:30-5:00:  Third panel


Tuesday, May 23

8:30-9:00: Coffee

9:00-10:30:  Fourth panel

10:45-12:15:  Fifth panel

12:15-1:30: Lunch

1:30-3:00: Sixth panel


Wangechi Mutu
The Storm, 2012
Collage on linoleum
73 x 114 x 4 in. (185.42 x 289.56 x 10.16 cm)
© Wangechi Mutu
Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery