PhD projects

Julie Hurst-WhitehouseJulie 187

Changing Spaces for Women’s Voices in Oral Histories of Holocaust and Genocide, 1945-2018

Supervisors: Dr Svenja Bethke, Dr Zoe GrovesDr Clare Anderson and  Dr Katherine Stone

My project will explore the methodology that is used to gather witness testimony of women’s experience of sexual violence, by drawing on the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, the Holocaust, and the genocide in Cambodia. 

Despite advances to how we understand patterns of violence against women during the Holocaust, and in genocide more broadly, studies linking gender and genocide through comparative analysis are rare. Furthermore, National Archive and Non-Government Organization (NGO) projects contain large quantities of primary testimony, but systematic research on how this testimony has been gathered and analyzed hardly exist. 

My thesis chooses a comparative perspective at the intersection of historical studies, genocide studies, gender and memory by asking: How effectively can different methodological approaches help women to express the breadth of their experiences through witness testimony, especially when sexual violence is so often stigmatized in surrounding societies? 

The aim of this thesis is twofold: it will first use a comparative genocide framework to assess how women’s experience has been articulated through oral history research. Secondly, it will examine how contemporary methodologies used by National Archives and NGOs, can either constrain or provide opportunities in the dialogue with survivors. The project will draw on historical analysis and methodologies developed by scholars and practitioners working for National Archives and NGOs. By bringing this work into dialogue with feminist approaches, I aim to identify practice-based methodologies that enables women to express their experience of sexual violence in genocide. 

Namak KhoshnawNamak Khoshnaw

The Filmmaker's Predicament: On ISIS, Media and the Kurdish Genocide

Supervisor: Dr Alexander Korb

During my 6-year practical-based PhD with documentary, I will look at the relationship between documentary and genocide, particularly in reference to the genocide carried out against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and by ISIS against the Yazidi Kurds in 2014.

I started my project in 2013 and have subsequently directed and produced eight documentary films for the BBC. Three of my films were directly related to the genocide - Slaves of the Caliphate, Policeman of Kirkuk and Life on the Rubbish Tip. In these films I tackle the idea of genocide from many different perspectives including the perpetrators, those against whom it is perpetrated, and those working to stop it.

All three films where made in hostile environments when ISIS were at their strongest in Iraq and Syria. It wasn't easy or safe to make those films but, as a victim of genocide in the 1980s 

and as a filmmaker in the present day, I was determined that these stories be told. Part of my practice is to ensure that the people of Iraq and around the world do no forget the past.

For my final project I will be submitting the 3 films mentioned, and 25,000 words examining how these films intersect with the modern history of genocide against the Kurds, as well as looking in greater detail at how these films were made. I will also build a website with interviews with interviewees from the films, such as fighters from ISIS and survivors of genocide, and many other oral history testimonies.

James ThedhamJames Thedham

Mostar and its people: Violence and its effect on ethnic identification, nationalism and social relations in Mostar between 1985 and 2000

Supervisors: Alexander Korb and Zoe Knox

The city of Mostar was subject to some of the fiercest conflict between Bosnian-Croats and Bosnian Muslims during the break up of Socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s, with a number of historians viewing the actions that took place in the city as demonstrative of ethnic cleansing. Despite this, there has been little to no written work exploring the city directly, let alone Mostar at a local level. It is from this that this PhD takes its basis.

My research places a magnifying glass over Mostar and how its community developed and changed between 1985 and 2000. It specifically looks to analyse changes in ethnic identification, nationalist sentiments and, subsequently, social relations and how these factors may correlate to acts of violence. This research therefore does not only look to explore why ethnic aggression and acts such as ethnic cleansing can occur, but how these acts can grow and thereby affect a community.

Mostar is therefore looked at independently as, although part of the Croat-Bosniak War (1992-1994), it is also subject to its own micro ethnic climate. In order to do this, this study draws upon a range of sources including records from local government, religious bodies and sporting organisations while also including select oral accounts. These sources all allow Mostar's own history to be told, instead of blindly following the nationalist historical narratives that have arisen discussing the period.

Raphael Rues

Military Activities of German and Italian Fascists unit during 1943-1945 in the regions of Ossola and lake Maggiore

Supervisors: Dr Alex KorbDr Luca Fenoglio and Dr David Gentilcore

I have an overall interest in fields of modern history where interactions between economic, social, political and military aspects are involved. I am a part-time PhD student, working for the Swiss government and as the Risk Manager responsible for the Swiss National Roads network in Berne, Switzerland.

In my PhD project, I am studying the activities of German and Italian Fascist military units in Northern Italy during 1943-1945, specifically in the region of Ossola, situated between Simplon and Lake Maggiore.

Before arriving to the region, most of the German units fought on the Eastern front where they had been heavily involved in the genocide of Jews and massacres of Soviet citizens. My research aims to analyse the extent to which their deployment in anti-partisan warfare in Northern Italy was a matter of “Wein, Weib und Gesang” ["Wine, Women and Song"] for German troops, or rather a logistical extension of the war crimes and operations on the Eastern front.

The study will analyse the military, economic, social and political impact of the German and Italian Fascist presence in the region, focusing closely on specific round-up operations. This study will also explore the complex and multi-faceted partisan historical resources with the actual operational development of the Italian “civil war”. The analysis will use a multi-disciplinary perspective, and involve research in Italian and German.

Answering such questions will both help us to understand better the German and Fascist anti-partisan modus operandi in Western Europe during the period 1943-1945, the overall economic impact of these operations for the assessed region, as well as to quantify how much of the Partisans historical resources can be actually used to assess this specific type of operations.


SS-Police in Ossola and Lago Maggiore. Operations and war crimes, Insubrica Historica, Minusio Switzerland (2018)

Breve storia del I battaglione Panzer-Grenadier Regiment 2 della divisione Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler prima e dopo gli eccidi di ebrei sul lago Maggiore, Nuova Resistenza Unita, Verbania (2018)

I disertori tedeschi nei documenti del controspionaggio svizzero, Mezzosecolo 11, Centro Studi Piero Gobetti , Istituto Storico della Resistenza in Piemonte, Torino (1997)

Lauren ParsonsLauren Parsons

Seeking Justice and Atonement: British Legal Approaches to Dealing with Mass Murder after the Holocaust, 1945-1969

Supervisors: Dr Svenja Bethke, Dr Alexander Korb and Dr William Niven

When studying Britain and its ties to the Holocaust, most academics have examined to what extent officials knew this atrocity was occurring and why they did not stop it. Despite Holocaust memory playing a vital role in public life in Britain, research has hardly considered how it dealt with mass murder after the war. 

My doctoral research addresses this gap in scholarly understanding by exploring the aspirations of, and approaches taken by, the British government to legally seek justice for the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime. Covering the period from 1945 to 1969, my PhD explores how during this time Britain became involved in both prosecuting major and minor Nazi war criminals, as well as pursuing redress for some of the victims who had suffered. Ultimately, my thesis investigates the role Britain played in the process undertaken by Germany to come to terms with, and attempt to atone for, its recent dark past.

Despite extensive research on the Holocaust and the new interest in legal approaches to dealing with the violent past, no scholar has yet examined Britain’s role in seeking justice for mass murder. Taking this as a starting point, I will be amongst the first to systematically examine how Britain legally dealt with the crimes committed by the National Socialist regime. My doctoral research covers how the British understood the Nazi atrocities, only later referred to as ‘the Holocaust’, and how they defined what Nazi persecution was and who could be deemed a victim of it. My thesis also questions if their involvement in seeing to it that Germany issued redress for its dark past ever made the British fear that they too would have to pay for their own historic crimes.

My research is not only relevant to the field of historical studies, but also the discipline of law. At the core of my PhD lies the moral and philosophical question of whether it is possible to ever atone for historical wrongs and how justice for them can be served. I ask what the British understood by the term ‘legal justice’ with regards to the Nazi atrocities and which legal means they chose to pursue so that future forgiveness and reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators may have been possible.

Judith VöckerJudith Vöcker

Crime and Criminal Prosecution in the Warsaw, Cracow and Riga Ghetto during World War II

Supervisors: Dr Svenja Bethke, Dr William Niven and Dr Klaus Richter

In my PhD project, I examine the development of criminal prosecution of Jews, Poles, Latvians and 'Volksdeutsche' in the Warsaw, Cracow and Riga ghettos over the time of their respective existences during World War II. For my analysis, I will follow the model of Jan Grabowski, who divided the existence of the Warsaw Ghetto into three stages. By applying his model to my analysis of court files from all the ghettos, I will be able to record any sudden changes in the way the juridical and police entities sentenced criminal offences. 

This will be supported by comparing similar criminal offences, committed by Jews, Poles, Latvians or 'Volksdeutsche' throughout the three stages in the respective ghettos. The focus lies on reconstructing the way juridical and police entities treated criminal cases and offenders from all spheres of society and to explore to what extent criminal persecution in the ghettos was influenced by the occupation tactics and policies.

The Warsaw, Cracow and Riga ghettos were chosen since they were set up in different occupation territories and periods of time, which could have had an influence on criminal persecution, especially of Jews. Furthermore, this comparison will also explore whether the deviating relations between the occupation forces, the ghetto society, the police and juridical entities, and the varied knowledge about the occupation strategies had an influence on their juridical system and sentencing.

The project will be able to show how citizens were treated by the punishment body depending on their nationality or religion, will ask whether clear legal regulations existed, and how being deprived of any rights affected the ghetto citizens.

Thus, my research contributes to a micro history of these ghettos, and their specific internal dynamics since ghettoisation caused a change of pre-war patterns of society and the legal sphere – as suddenly, Jews had to survive under life-threatening conditions.

Nadine TauchnerNadine Tauchner

Journalism between Nazism and Democracy: An intellectual biography of the Austrian journalist Otto Schulmeister

Supervisors: Dr Alexander KorbDr Paul Moore and Dr Elizabeth Harvey

Austria looks back on a belated scholarly discussion of its National Socialist past. The same is true for the profession of journalism. Playing an active part in the propaganda machinery of the “Third Reich” did not hinder journalists from having successful careers after the war.

One of them was Otto Schulmeister (1916- 2001), a famous and influential figure of the post-war press, whose upbringing, political affiliations, social networks and professional work offers a look into the political developments of the First Republic, Austro-fascism, Nazism and the Second Republic. He left behind an impressive paper trail and his personal estate forms the foundation of this PhD project.

Taking Otto Schulmeister’s biography as the unit of analysis allows me to identify long spanning continuities or contradicting patterns of thinking, as well as reinterpretations of concepts and ideas that are often studied in isolation of each other.

In employing methods of biography research, oral history and content analysis, my project is investigating how the Catholic milieu negotiated the transition from democracy to Nazism and back. How intellectuals perceived and discussed the idea of Democracy, Europe and National Socialism before, during and after National Socialism and what effects the changes from democracy to Nazism and back had on the press and intellectual movements?

At its core this project aspires to be a transnational and intellectual study of Austrian journalism that sheds light on how a journalist reacted and contributed to the changing course of Austrian and European history in the 20th century and the extreme intellectual conditions associated with those upheavals.

Joshua Cohen

The influence of the Holocaust on British anti-fascism, 1945-67

Supervisors: Dr Paul Moore and Dr Sally Horrocks

Even during the Second World War, Britain witnessed a fascist revival. In 1944, the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women held an openly fascist meeting in London’s Hyde Park. At the war’s end, it was possible to be confronted both with newspaper photographs of the liberated Nazi camps and fascist street speakers claiming that, ‘not enough Jews were burned at Belsen’.

In 1948, Sir Oswald Mosley re-launched his political career after wartime internment, forming the Union Movement (UM). Writing about a UM march in Dalston, London that took place later that year, the historian David Renton (2000) commented: ‘Taking place just a few years after the Blitz and the Holocaust … it seemed inconceivable that there were still people who thought fascism was right. Yet this was the message of the march’. Renton echoes historians who have identified the Holocaust as central to a post-war British anti-fascist consensus, alongside the nation’s wartime record of fighting fascist powers.

Richard Thurlow (1988) suggested that the ‘chief accusation’ against post-war British fascists was their alleged support for the extermination of European Jewry. Despite assertions of this nature, the historiographies of British fascism, anti-fascism and Holocaust remembrance rarely interest in a study of the genocide’s impact on the opposing forces. 

My thesis questions the extent to which the Holocaust shaped British anti-fascism in the period 1945-67. To address this, I will analyse the campaign strategies, propaganda, private discourses and memory cultures of a broad range of anti-fascist organisations. These movements include the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, the 43 Group, Yellow Star Movement and 62 Group. My thesis will make a political, structural assessment of these groups using primary archival materials. It will also interrogate oral life histories collected since the 1990s that document how individuals have reflected on the meaning of the Holocaust for their anti-fascist activism, and the complicating details behind their motivations for fighting back.