Most of the time, memory studies focuses on well-known case studies. The result Is that we know lots about commemoration and memory regarding the Holocaust, about slavery, about apartheid, and other cases, but much less about how memory works in smaller states and less well-known tragedies.
Erik Sjöberg's new book The Making of the Greek Genocide: Contested Memories of the Ottoman Greek Catastrophe (Berghahn Books, 2018) is an exception to this rule. Sjöberg is interested in the violence and expulsion of ethnic Greeks from Anatolia before, during and especially after World War One. But the focus of his work is on how this violence has been remembered and contested in the last 30 years. He argues that efforts to remember the violence and deploy it politically emerged in the 1980s. It then became a prominent feature in the complicated politics of national identity within and outside of Greece.
Sjöberg book is deeply researched, methodologically sophisticated and precise in argument and tone. He deploys concepts from sociology to help understand the way memory has functioned. In doing so, he helps us consider both the particular details of his case study and the broader lessons that writing about a less-well known case can teach us about memory and the past.
Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.
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