Research at the HVC

The Hugo Valentin Centre provides a markedly interdisciplinary research environment, uniting scholars from disciplines across the humanities and social research. The research can roughly divided into research fields of Holocaust and genocide studies, and research on national minorities and ethnic relations.

Research on national minorities is conducted primarily within the framework of the research group NAMIS, with a focus on issues of linguistic and cultural revitalization, migration and ethnic diversity. Current projects include Ida Ohlsson al Fakir’s postdoctoral project on the Swedish Church and its relation to migrants and minorities; Theresa Johnsson's research in the field of "Romani Studies" in Sweden, Robert Borges's research on language revitalisation in Poland; Jim Porter's research on "neo-hereditarianism" i the United States after the Second World War; John Hennessey's project on the Ainu people in Japan; Carl Henrik Carlsson's research on Jewish migration to Sweden; and Satu Gröndahl's participation in the “research node” Science, Validation, Partial Perspective: Knowledge Production Beyond the Standards

Research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies has a major focus on the social and social-psychological dynamics of violence, transitional justice, geostatistical analysis (GIS) and memory culture in relation to the Holocaust and other outbreaks of mass violence. Current research includes Tomislav Dulić's study about the over four thousand Yugoslav prisoners that were deported to camps in Norway during the Second World War; Dulić's, Goran Miljan's and Roland Kostić's project on social memory about the Second World War in Southeast Europe; Michelle Gordon's study of colonial warfare; Sylwia Szymanska Smolkins research on couriers during the Holocaust; Pontus Ruberg's project on post-war Jewish migration to Sweden; and Kostić and Holly Guthrey's two projects on post-conflict peace and reconciliation processes. Adding to these is Kathleen Lonergan's PhD project in peace and conflict research on the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka, and Lior Becker's PhD project concerning so-called Yizkor books, written by Holocaust survivors.

In addition to these projects, we have the pleasure to house a number of guest researchers who make an important contribution to the research environment. Anne Heith's project on Laestadianism in contemporary Sami and Tornedalian texts, Hiroshi Maruyama's comparative research on the Sami and Ainu indigenous peoples and Niika Potinkara's project on the Finnish-speaking national minority in Sweden.

Current research projects

The Unwanted Citizens: The Holocaust and the Aryanization of Jewish Property in Romania and the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), 1940-1945

Project leader: Goran Miljan
Funding: Stiftelsen Marcus och Amalia Wallenbergs Minnesfond
Research focus: Holocaust Studies
Project start: July 1, 2019

The forced transfer of Jewish property into “Aryan” hands (Aryanization) represented one of the crucial aspects of the process of exclusion of Jews from European societies during the Holocaust. The same process took place in the Axis partner states, Romania and the Independent State of Croatia – NDH during WWII. As active participants in the Holocaust the two regimes engaged in the mass dispossession of Jewish wealth for the purpose of reshaping their societies and changing the perceived internal power structure through the distribution of jobs, businesses and real estate to the “dominant” ethnic community.

This project investigates the policies and practices of Aryanization conducted in Romania and the NDH during WWII. By focusing on antisemitism, legislation, bureaucracy, policy implementation, and gentile and Jewish responses, the project examines the ideological, political, and legal factors that shaped this Aryanization in three major urban areas that hosted the largest Jewish communities: Bucharest, Iaşi, and Czernowitz in Romania, and Zagreb, Osijek, and Varaždin in the NDH. In particular, by showing how the Aryanization of minority property was utilized for the purposes of nation and state building during WWII, the project will provide a comparative perspective on the role of Aryanization in the two above-mentioned Axis countries. This comparative perspective will advance the existing scholarship on the dynamics and mutual influences between fascism, Holocaust and nationalization policies in Central and South Eastern Europe. Drawing on new archival collections, a comparative methodology, and state of the art research on fascism and Aryanization, the project will address not only the strategies employed to seize Jewish property but also the responses of gentiles and Jewish citizens.


Anomalous Aryans? Western Scientific Racism and the Ainu as a “Lost White Race,” 1868-1941

Project Leader: John Hennessey
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre (postdoc project)
Research focus: Minority studies, scientific racism
Project start: January 2019

Starting in the 1870s, Western scientists became increasingly interested this people indigenous to the Okhotsk region in Northeast Asia that challenged many of their assumptions about race and “civilization.” The Ainu appeared to them to both be “Aryan” or “white” and a “primitive,” “dying race” that was being displaced by Japanese colonization, potentially challenging established notions of “white” racial superiority. The role of the Ainu in the production of a Japanese racial national identity has been researched in depth, but its possible impact on Western understandings of race has never been seriously considered. 

This project will use European and American scientific studies of the Ainu during the period 1868-1941 to investigate knowledge production within scientific racism. Employing perspectives from political discourse theory, the philosophy of science and postcolonial studies, it will chart Western scientific debates about the Ainu in order to better understand how racial constructions like “whiteness” were produced and legitimized within scientific racism around the turn of the twentieth century. The present moment is ideal for researching the history of racial discrimination against the Ainu as the Japanese government is contemplating a controversial revision of Japan’s Ainu legislation.


Segmented Narratives, Conflicting Histories: Social Memory about the Second World War in the Western Balkans, 1989–2018

Project leader: Tomislav Dulić
Other participants at the HVC: Goran Miljan, Roland Kostić, Flora Hrovat (assistant)
Research focus: Social Memory in Comparative Genocide Studies
Project start: January 2019

Recent political developments have challenged the self-perception of the EU as a union of states sharing a set of universal democratic values arising in opposition to a history plagued by totalitarianism, political repression and genocide. This is particularly evident in the Western Balkans, where intense controversy over the Second World War and its aftermath have affected social and inter-ethnic, as well as diplomatic relations.

The project aims at analysing the shaping of social memory about fascism, collaboration and communism in the context of the Second World War in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina since the end of communism. The analysis is based on a methodologically integrated approach that traces and measures how political change resulted in the segmentation of competing narratives about the past over time. It includes content analyses of academic knowledge-production, media discourses, schoolbooks and curricula; semi-structured interviews with teachers; and a social network analysis that will map the relationship between actors involved in the shaping of social memory over time. The sophisticated and interdisciplinary approach will set new standards for research on social memory while providing a knowledge-base that can be used for developing the tools by which to better understand and address the tensions among Europeans with sometimes conflicting experiences and perceptions of the past.


‘Last Winter Dad and Mum Came and Fetched Me But Have Not Been Home Yet’: Subaltern Perspectives on the Lives of Romani People in Sweden c. 1780–1840

Project leader: Theresa Johnsson
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre (postdoc project)
Research focus: Minority studies, Romani Studies
Project start: August 2018

While it is commonly known that the will to control so-called “Gypsies”has loomed large in West European legislation since the Middle Ages, comparative studies focusing on the social history of Romani people in Europe before the late 19th century are scarce. In this project subaltern history will be engaged with archival sources in order to trace and study the everyday lives of Romani people in mid-Sweden c. 1780-1840.  Employing a biographical, microhistorical methodology, critical questions are posed about the emergence of the modern nation state, the agency of Romanies, the nature of archives and the methological implications of writing history of groups that have left few egodocuments behind. 

The empirical focus of this project lies in three areas of inquiry that are or can be crucial to people’s welfare: the possibility of crossing different kinds of borders legally, the possibility of legal settlement and the possibility of making a legal livelihood.  Mini-biographies will be constructed mainly around three women, based on the sporadic, scattered glimpses that are left of them in the archives. Drawing from a multitude of sources, combining qualitative and quantitative data, the lives of these women will be used as hubs in order to explore the position and experience of Romani people in Sweden as well as the emergence of the modern nation state. The main aim is twofold: to problematize different historical as well as historiographical silences, and to broaden and deepen our understanding of the long history of Romani people in the Nordic countries.


The ‘Civilised’ Nature of European Warfare?

Project leader: Michelle Gordon
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre (postdoc project)
Research focus: Genocide studies and Colonial Warfare 
Project start: August 2018

It has been commonly accepted that nineteenth-century warfare was predicated on notions of ‘civilised’ (i.e. European) and ‘uncivilised’ warfare against indigenous ‘savages’. As a result, there are two distinct bodies of work on colonial and European warfare and the relationship between the two has been hitherto under researched. Nineteenth-century intra-European and colonial violence took place in the context of the nationalisation, industrialisation and ‘totalisation’ of warfare. Simultaneously, international standards of warfare were being set – in a European context at least – to standardise and ‘humanise’ practices of war, although noncombatants were left unprotected under international law. Both types of warfare had a devastating effect on local civilian populations. 

This project will reassess the role of European troops in committing extreme violence and atrocities in intra-European and colonial conflicts in nineteenth-century warfare. My research will explore networks and ‘transfers’ of knowledge between the metropole and the periphery, considering the ways in which European powers ‘learnt’ new methods of violence both within and between empires. Empirical evidence from a range of archives will be investigated to demonstrate how Europeans – and military men in particular – were thinking comparatively in the tactics they used both in and outside of Europe. This project will explore the ways in which the perception of one’s enemy radicalised the methods used, including concepts of ‘race’ and ‘illegitimacy’. By examining how methods and mentalities of extreme violence were transferred across and beyond empires, this research will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of how European colonial practices ‘came home’ in the genocidal intra-European violence of the twentieth century.


​The Role of Couriers in Spreading Awareness of Mass Murder and Establishing Jewish Resistance Movements During the Second World War

Project leader: Sylwia Szymańska-Smolkin
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre
Research focus: Holocaust studies
Project start: August 2018

Despite the enclosure of Jews into ghettos in occupied Poland (General Government), the Germans failed to completely cut them off from the outside world. The ghettos were isolated from each other and leaving them was possible only in exceptional cases; however, ghetto inhabitants maintained ties with the “Aryan” side and with other ghettos. Underground organizations and political parties in different ghettos worked independently but tried to establish contacts with organizations in other ghettos. The success of the exchange of information between the ghettos was due to the work of couriers who travelled between ghettos in the General Government and then to areas occupied by the Germans in 1941.​

The project will examine the work of couriers and their role in establishing contact between communities to determine how the information about mass killings in the East was disseminated and received. It will discuss how the work of couriers contributed to raising awareness of German plans to murder Jews and aim to help understand the impact the information about mass killings from Vilna had on political organizations in the Białystok and Warsaw ghettos. The project will broaden the discussion on the Jewish resistance movement and show how both female and male couriers contributed to the efforts of creating resistance organizations in ghettos. How were they received in the communities they reached? Were the urges to organize armed resistance modeled on the Jewish resistance organization FPO (Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye) in Vilna understood and heeded? The three ghettos that will be examined in more detail were each in a separate German administrative zone: Vilna (Reichskommissariat Ostland), Warsaw (General Government), and Białystok (Bezirk Bialystok).​


Racism and Neo-hereditarian Individualism: 
Discursive Transformations and Minority Formation in Post-Second World War US Public Schools

Project leader: Jim Porter
Funding: Hugo Valentin-centrum (postdoc-project)
Research focus: Minority studies and ethnic relations
Project start: August 2017

This project examines how discourses about alleged hereditary individual difference structured educational opportunity in the post-Second World War United States. Specifically, it examines how a refashioned science of “intelligence" was quietly integrated into educational policy following Brown v. Board’s mandate to desegregate US public schools. 

A number of social scientists had already during the interwar period provided well-substantiated criticism against intelligence tests for being methodologically flawed, even an extension of 19th century race science.  Yet post-Second World War advocates of testing and “ability” grouping found new ways to justify old practices. This research will trace the discursive adaptation of hereditarianism across interwar and post-WWII eras, exploring continuities as it does so between an earlier race science and eugenics movement, and a mid to late-1950s push for the selective education of the “gifted” and “academically talented.”  To this end, the project will examine the rise in the 1950s of neo-hereditarian individualism, and yet the entanglement of this individualism with a racism from which it had supposedly freed itself.


The New Speakers of Wymysorys: The Reconstitution of the Local Language and Sociolinguistic Identity in Wilamowice, Poland

Project leader: Robert Borges
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre (postdoc project)
Research focus: Minority studies and ethnic relations
Project start: July 2017

From around the 13th century until the end of the Second World War, a Germanic language called Wymysorys was the language of everyday communication in the town of Wilamowice, southern Poland. Due to post-war repressive policies, intergenerational transmission of Wymysorys was stifled, and the language is today considered "nearly extinct" by UNESCO. But in the past ten or so years, grassroots revitalization efforts have resulted in the emergence of several dozen fluent young users of the language and several dozen more dedicated learners.

The main aim of the project is to document the profiles of the new speakers of Wymysorys in terms of their attitudes and experiences about the language and mulitlingualism as well as the manner in which these speakers actually use the language. Drawing on insights from socio-, experimental, and contact linguistics, a mixed method analysis can be performed on these profiles in order to address a number of questions. How do factors such as attitudes, collective identity and trauma, proficiency, and language structure influence each other? How are linguistic innovations introduced and spread in the speech community. In addition to its narrow focus, the project has potential for wider theoretical contributions in terms of foregrounding new speakers in an empirically-based approach (variationist paradigm) as well as the study of language revitalization in general.


Yizkor Books: An Underresearched Part of Holocaust Memory Culture

Project leader: Lior Becker
Funding: HVC and Dept. of History (PhD project)
Research focus: Holocaust memory culture
Project start: January 2017

The project concerns an underresearched part of the Holocaust memory culture; Yizkor books. These works began appearing during the Holocaust, but mainly in the decades after the war with a peak in the 1970s. The books represent a spontaneous attempt among Holocaust survivors, mostly in the United States and Israel, to remember and pay attention to the culturally and spiritually rich world that existed in Europe before the Nazi genocide.

Writing of Yizkor books can be seen as positive reaction to the Nazi attempt to not only physically exterminate the Jews, but to also delete them from the collective memory. They represent not only a recollection, saying that "we were here", but provide a vivid insight into the Jewish society before, during and after the Holocaust. About two thousand books have been published over the years, mostly in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. The project aims at a first depth analysis of these works as historical documents, literary works, and as an important part of the Holocaust and the Jewish people's cultural memory.


Enhancing Development and Security on the Ground?
Exploring the Effects of Top-down and Bottom-up Post-conflict Justice and Reconciliation Processes

Project leader: Roland Kostić
Other participants at the HVC: Holly Guthrey
Funding:  Swedish Research Council
Research focus: Transitional Justice
Project start: January 2017

Recent research in the field of transitional justice has increasingly called attention to debates about whether top-down or bottom up post-conflict justice and reconciliation strategies are more advantageous to pursue in the wake of mass atrocity. While these processes are generally viewed as necessary to deal with past wrongdoings, it remains unclear how participation in top-down or bottom-up processes impacts upon perceptions of security and socioeconomic cooperation in local settings.

The project concerns a comparison of three post-conflict settings that had varying approaches to transitional justice: Sierra Leone, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Mozambique. The first two implemented official, top-down strategies, while the latter relied on locally derived, grassroots processes to overcome their violent pasts. Data will be collected through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with victims and perpetrators who continue to live in the same communities. The project will contribute to Swedish development goals of 1) reducing poverty through understanding how societal trust and social capital can be increased, thus paving the way for economic development; 2) addressing oppression and human rights abuses through understanding how to best stop cycles of violence via reconciliation; and 3) empowering females by exploring how female experiences and needs can be best met in post-conflict settings. 


Atrocity Prevention through Reconciliation: Expanding the Evidence

Project leader: Kate Lonergan
Funding: HVC and the Dept. of Peace and Conflict Research (doctoral project)
Research focus: transitional justice
Project start: January 2017

Atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, are more likely to occur in places that have experienced similar violence in the past. In the aftermath of such violence, reconciliation initiatives strive to transform conflictual identities in order to create an environment of lasting and positive peace. Reconciliation initiatives are often promoted as a tool to prevent the recurrence of violence and atrocity, and stop the escalatory spiral of violence before it begins. However, little empirical evidence exists to understand the relationship between reconciliation and atrocity prevention.

This project will seek to measure the impact of interpersonal reconciliation mechanisms on risk factors for participation in a mass atrocity. By measuring the impact of an interpersonal reconciliation program on atrocity risk factors, this study will contribute new empirical evidence against which previous claims can be judged. In addition to testing theoretical claims about the links between reconciliation and atrocity prevention, this research aims to contribute to indicator development for both reconciliation outcomes and atrocity risk. This project will incorporate an innovative approach to indicator development, using community-based qualitative fieldwork to define locally relevant indicators of reconciliation and atrocity risk. 


”Stand Up and Walk!” Minorities and Migrants in the Social Work of the Swedish Church, ca. 1900-1940

Project leader: Ida Ohlsson al Fakir
Funding: The Hugo Valentin Centre (postdoc project)
Research focus: minorities and migration
Project start: September 2016

The research project analyses the Swedish church’s problematisations and practices concerning minorities and migrants in or at the borders to the nation state in the beginning of the twentieth century. The Swedish church has for centuries been an important actor in social work at the local level, and from the late 19th century part of this work was aimed at minorities and migrants.

The project examines which groups different diaconal or missionary activities targeted and how these activities differed depending on whether the target group was defined as a legitimate recipient or not. The purpose is to create new knowledge about the relation between the Swedish church and minority groups such as Roma and Resande (travellers), as well as other groups whose mobility has been defined as a problem at local, national and international levels. These are questions in which the Swedish church today has established itself as an important actor. By broadening the focus from separate (national) minorities to migrants, the study will create a deeper understanding of the role of different ideas and actors in processes of belonging.


Confronting Intercultural Conflicts: French Antiracism and Jewish-Muslim Relations, 1948-2000

Project leader: Johannes Heuman
Funding: Swedish Research Council
Research focus: Ethnic relations and minority studies
Project start: June 2015

After the Second World War, France’s Jewish and Muslim communities grew to become the most vital in Western Europe. Yet the relationship between these two communities has been tense due to political developments beyond France’s current borders. The foundation of Israel with its subsequent conflicts and the decolonisation of North Africa in the 1950s and 1960s were two key political developments which together significantly shaped Jewish–Muslim relations. 

The purpose of the project is to understand to what extent the French antiracist movement, with its universal orientation, left room for the specific interests of France ́s Jewish and Muslim communities, but in some cases also contributed to the polarisation by public various manifestations and public statements. The project will draw on recent research on multiculturalism, identity politics, and universalism, and in this way provide a deeper understanding of Jewish–Muslims relations changed during the post-war era and how the antiracist movement dealt with the rise of identity politics within those communities. The project is conducted at the Hugo Valentin Centre and the Centre Alberto-Benveniste, part of the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris.


The Living Dead: Yugoslav Camp Prisoners in Norway, 1942-45

Project leader: Tomislav Dulić
Funding: Swedish Research Council
Research focus: microfoundations of violence
Project start: January 2012

Almost 4,300 Yugoslavs were deported to Norway during the Second World War, where they worked on the Norwegian part of Adolf Hitler's "Atlantic Wall". Over sixty percent never returned to their homes in the Balkans, but fell victim to the cold, hunger and disease, or were killed by their German and Norwegian guards. Other experienced the goodness of the many Norwegian civilians who lived near the camps and helped them to survive from one day to another. An additional ninety prisoners managed to escape to freedom in Sweden.

The Yugoslav prisoners' journey from the Balkans to Scandinavia is the basis for the project, which uses teoretical models from the fields of sociology and social psychology to analyze the violence that affected the prisoners from their capture of the former Yugoslavia and throughout their stay in Norway. The analysis is based on documents from archives in Oslo, Stockholm, Belgrade and Ludwigsburg, including materials from war crimes investigations. By combining qualitative sources with statististical data and spatial analyses, the project applies a mixed-methods approach that will hopefully deepen our understanding of the dynamics of violence in the camps.