By Alexis Herr
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has elected Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation and adjunct professor of religion, the first holder of the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education. Dr. Smith’s appointment represents an exciting step forward in the advancement of a multidisciplinary approach to Holocaust and genocide education.
Dr. Smith’s contributions to the USC Shoah Foundation over the past four years demonstrate his outstanding leadership in the fields of Holocaust studies and genocide research. Having served as the founding director of Britain’s first Holocaust memorial and education center, Dr. Smith brought his educational expertise to bear when oversaw the launch of USC’s IWitness Program. IWitness is an online resource for Holocaust education that allows educators and their pupils an opportunity to interact with over 1,300 video testimonies, media activities, and digital resources. As cofounder of the Aegis Trust, an organization campaigning against crimes against humanity and genocide, Dr. Smith played a leading role in the creation of the Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM) in Rwanda. He brought KGM officials from Kigali to USC to receive training in 2011 and over the years has collected invaluable Rwandan genocide testimony for the USC archive. Furthermore, his training as a theologian, scholarship on the impact of the Holocaust on religious and philosophical thought, and numerous publications on Holocaust memory, afford him a specialized approach to preserving Holocaust history through education.
UNESCO’s selection of Dr. Smith as the inaugural recipient of the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education ensures the advancement of Holocaust and genocide studies through a multidisciplinary approach to human rights. While it may seem only natural to study genocide in a comparative context, in reality few universities have centers dedicated to Holocaust and genocide education and Clark University is the only university in the world to offer a Ph.D. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Despite genocide being a shared history for nearly all nations, it has yet to receive the attention in academic institutions that it warrants. Dr. Smith’s appointment will help to draw attention to and bolster support for comparative genocide studies and human rights education.