WORCESTER, MASS. — When they began working toward doctoral degrees in Holocaust history in 1998, students at Clark University focused on the obvious place and time: Eastern Europe during World War II.
Now they'll be able to look closely at examples of mass murder and systematic annihilation in such places as Rwanda, Cambodia, and Armenia.
Four years after launching the country's first PhD program in Holocaust history, Clark is expanding it to include genocide studies.
"By looking at these different genocides, we start to see patterns," says Deborah Dwork, director of the 2,000-student school's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. "And when we see those patterns in history, we can recognize them when they happen today and help prevent them."
Dwork calls the expanded program "an idea of startling simplicity," but Holocaust experts say it's unique. While other schools offer undergraduate programs and master's degrees in Holocaust history and genocide studies, they don't have PhD programs that combine both topics, they say.
"I don't know of any other program like it in the country," says William Shulman, president of the Association of Holocaust Organizations. "Holocaust and genocide studies are a decade-and-a-half old. It takes a long time to develop a doctoral degree program that blends the two."
Clark will keep the five-year PhD program small. By September, 10 students will be enrolled, and only a few will be added each year, Dwork says.
Some of the students plan to become museum curators, foreign policy advisers, or human-rights watchdogs. Others plan to teach grade school.
"I want to grab kids when they're young and foster in them a revulsion for countries that stand by while innocent people are being butchered," says Richard Hitchens, a student from London, Ontario, who is in his third year of the PhD program. "As long as genocide is tolerated, it will continue."