In the essay “What is History?,” commissioned by the American Historical
Association in 1985, historian Peter Stearns attempted to capture the heart of
the historian’s craft. “Historians are always at work reinterpreting the past,
asking new questions, searching new sources and finding new meanings in old
documents in order to bring the perspective of new knowledge and experience to
bear on the task of understanding the past.” This means, according to Stearns,
that what we know and believe about history is always in flux.
Scholarship on the Holocaust, as with other subjects of academic inquiry, has
developed and changed significantly since its inception at the end of World War
II. This assignment asks you to trace how scholars have developed and changed
their perspectives on a question within the field of Holocaust Studies. The aim of
this assignment is not to write a research paper and certainly not a historical
report, but rather to write a thesis-driven essay that examines different scholarly
perspectives and claims on a topic of interest to you within Holocaust
scholarship. Once you identify your topic and sources, (possible questions on
pages 4-7 below) you should be able to commence writing your paper in
response to the prompt below:
How would you characterize and assess the key positions in this debate and the key points of contention? What do you see as the larger significance of the debate for understanding the Holocaust?
As you analyze the books or articles on your chosen topic, you will also need to consider some of the following points:
a. How would you characterize the specific questions and perspective of the works you are analyzing?
b. How do you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments, evidence, and interpretation?
c. What is the relationship between the arguments? How do the respective arguments in each work complement or contradict each other?
d. Which arguments do you find most convincing and why?
Topic that I chose : Resistance Among European Jews
At the beginning of the 1960s, two important scholars described Jewish victims of the Nazis as going passively to their deaths instead of resourcefully utilizing possible opportunities for resistance. This characterization aroused scholarly discussion around the very definition of “resistance” and Jewish responses to Nazi persecution more generally. How would you characterize and assess the key positions in the debate about the definition of resistance and the key points of contention? What do you see as the larger significance of the debate for understanding the Holocaust?