The politics of history plays a central role in international and intra-state conflicts. In the last few decades as a result of the growing centrality of human rights, societies have come to pay greater attention to past atrocity crimes (genocide, ethnic cleansing, gross violations of human rights, war crimes), and in turn this created a demand for redress. These developments coincided with the proliferation of cultural memory and commemorations, transitional justice mechanisms, reparations and state apologies. The dramatic increased in attention to historical injustices led to social and political movements that demanded redress around the globe. Some of these demands have been successful, others have failed. Notwithstanding this increased role of history in contemporary politics, history is yet to be engaged as a tool in conflict resolution and reconciliation. The paper describes the state of politics in relation to crimes of atrocity, it describes some of the more prominent social movements for redress, as well as the budding efforts to bring historical dialogues into conflict resolution through official and civil society efforts, including historical commissions, education, demythologizing nationalists’ histories, and constructing new historical narratives that take account of all sides of a conflict. Cases include those that result from the legacy of World War II; colonialism (slavery and indigenous peoples); and sites of contemporary political crises from North East Asia to the Balkans and to Turkey.
The Colonial Legacy Conference examined the colonial and post-colonial heritage of the Treaty of Utrecht and assessed its legacy in contemporary scholarship on human trafficking, in the study of cultural memories of historical traumas, in practices of reconciliation and in popular culture.