Violence as a Generative Force: Identity, Nationalism, and Memory in a Balkan Community

2019 Prize in History and Social Sciences 

by Max Bergholz
Publisher: Cornell University Press
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Violence as a Generative Force

Jury Statement

Restrained, humane, and beautifully written, and drawing intelligently on ethnography, psychology, and genocide studies, Violence as a Generative Force deserves to be read not only by Europeanists but by anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of mass violence.

Max Bergholz shows violence was less a consequence of than a catalyst to ethnic identification and polarization.  It was “generative” both in that it took on a dynamic of its own, and in that it could cement–and even fix in memory–ethnic identities that had been much more fluid and contingent. 

In this study, Bergholz asks us to think again about the sources, processes, and consequences of ethnic violence. When and why do neighbors turn on neighbors?  From a careful reading of disparate and challenging sources, Bergholz reconstructs a shocking series of massacres and reprisals that took place in 1941 in the region of Kulen Vakuf in northwest Bosnia and that left many hundreds of men, women, and children dead. This was intimate violence: men shot, mutilated or cut the throats of people they often knew; they tossed their bodies into pits or rivers or burned them alive; they stole everything worth stealing and then razed houses and farms to the ground. But at each stage of his often disturbing story, Bergholz shows how contingency, local relations, and even personal choice affected the course of events: we see how killings could begin when local hoodlums or opportunists were suddenly granted authority and guns; how opportunities for score-settling or looting led others to join in; how fears of reprisals or a desire for vengeance could escalate violence; how the presence or absence of a few particularly respected or determined individuals could tip the balance of who lived or died. 

Max Bergholz

About the Author

Max Bergholz is Associate Professor of History at Concordia University in Montreal, where he holds the James M. Stanford Professorship in Genocide and Human Rights Studies. 

2019 Final Jury

Ruth Abbey
Professor of Political Science
University of Notre Dame 

Jeffrey J. Anderson
Graf Goltz Professor and Director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies
Georgetown University 

Alexander Martin
Professor of History
University of Notre Dame

John Merriman
Charles Seymour Professor of History
Yale University

Susan G. Pedersen
Gouverneur Morris Professor of History
Columbia University