Foundation Atrocities and Public History: The Role of Lawyers in Finding Truth | Pages 224-235 | PDF

Nolan Sharkey, PhD, Professor
University of Western Australia, Australia

Tetiana Muzyka, PhD, Assoc. Professor
Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University, Ukraine

Keywords: genocide, law and public history, law and post colonialism, law and empire

History provides the basis for nations’ existence. Yet, history is capable of telling different stories in relation to the same events. It is also open to manipulation and distortion. More so than ever, this is the case with the easy availability and cross border reach of many forms of media. In addition, the concept of public history recognises that representations of history are not made solely by professional historians. The conclusion that must be reached from this is that history is open to contesting and it is not necessarily a fair contest favouring accuracy. This paper argues that law and legal scholars can play a role in settling significant historical disputes by applying the rigour of legal dispute settlement institutions. Consideration of evidence and narrowing arguments to relevant issues are of significant worth. These possibilities are illustrated through the debates surrounding two significant atrocities of history, the Great Irish Famine and the Ukrainian Holodomor. Both events have a critical place in the nation-building of the Irish and the Ukrainians, yet the debate rages on as to whether they may or may not be genocide. We review the historical issues and the genocide issue and suggest that legal scholars rather than historians may assist in settling rather than perpetuating the disputes.