Monday-Tuesday, May 22-23, 2023 — Royce 314

Organized by Michael Rothberg, Ben Ratskoff, and Zoé Samudzi

1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies


In the late 1980s, following the famous Historikerstreit (Historians’ Debate) about the uniqueness and comparability of the Holocaust, the German-Israeli scholar Dan Diner proposed the concept of the Zivilisationsbruch, the “rupture in civilization.” With the concept of the Zivilisationsbruch, Diner sought to describe the singularity of the Nazi genocide of European Jews as a rupture with basic post-Enlightenment assumptions of rationality, utility, and universality. While Diner’s conception continues to hold weight in both scholarly and public discussions of the Holocaust, scholars working in different traditions have asked if other histories of violence—not least those deriving from colonialism and slavery—do not also constitute ruptures in modernity. This conference will interrogate histories and memories of political violence comparatively in order to put such posited “breaks” or ruptures into relation. It will explore the possibilities and limits of thinking colonial and fascist forms of violence together and ask how comparative and relational approaches might help us reconsider the historical and ongoing role of racialization in Western modernity as well as the concept of “civilization” itself.

In order to address such questions, “Civilization Breaks: Colonialism, Slavery, and the Holocaust” will convene a group of scholars open to rigorous and respectful exchange about these matters. While journalistic venues and blogs have been full of impassioned debates in recent years—not least in Germany, where a so-called Historikerstreit 2.0 has been underway since 2020—this conference will serve as an opportunity for collective reflection and substantive exchange beyond such polemical interventions.



Monday, May 22


10:30-10:45: Coffee


Welcome and Introductions: Monday, 10:45-11:00

Michael Rothberg (UCLA), Ben Ratskoff (Hebrew Union College), and Zoé Samudzi (Rhode Island School of Design)

Introductory remarks: Alexandra Minna Stern, Dean of the Humanities


Panel 1: Monday, 11:00-12:30

Chair: Michael Rothberg (UCLA)

Mirjam Sarah Brusius (German Historical Institute London): “The Continuity of Ruptures: Slavery, Colonialism, and the Holocaust in Central Berlin’s Museums”

Frank Biess (UC San Diego): “Aftermaths: Comparing Confrontations with Genocide in Weimar and Postwar Germany”


Lunch: 12:30-1:45


Panel 2: Monday, 1:45-3:15

Chair: Patricia Arroyo Calderon (UCLA)

Alberto Toscano (School of Communication, SFU): “Breaking with Civilization: Anti-Semitism, Racial Capitalism, and the Ignoble Savage”

J. Kameron Carter (Indiana University): “The Religion of Whiteness: An Apocalyptic Lyric”


Panel 3: Monday, 3:30-5:00

Chair: Benjamin Ratskoff (HUC)

Vaughn Rasberry (Stanford): “Du Bois After World War II: Between Multidirectional Memory and Comparative Racialization”

Sonali Thakkar (NYU): “Rupture, Race, Repair: Jewishness, Anticolonialism, and the Politics of Liberal Antiracism”


Wangechi Mutu
The Storm, 2012
Collage on linoleum
73 x 114 x 4 in. (185.42 x 289.56 x 10.16 cm)
© Wangechi Mutu
Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery