Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



R.J. Hartley, "Signifying the Place of Unforgettable Memory: Atrocity and Trauma in a Post-Conflict Landscape," Anthropology Faculty Publications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2014.


Copyright (c) 2014 Ralph J. Hartley.

This paper is a reflection on the author’s assistance to Physicians for Human Rights (U.S.) and the United Nations with forensic investigations in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The views expressed in this essay are those of the author alone and do not represent the policies or views of these organizations.


After active inter-group lethal violence subsides places at which atrocities occurred are often assigned significance, reflecting an altered social topography influenced by ideology that may foster the hardening of socio-ethnic boundary distinctions. While using a comparativist approach, this paper explores the relationships between socio-cultural trauma, places of atrocity, and socio-political polarization. Two sites in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, where highly publicized massacres occurred, illustrate the power of place significance in social environments vulnerable to flare-ups of violent conflict.