Benjamin Madley to Lecture on an American Genocide

Genocide, according to the United Nations, is “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”  Benjamin Madley, an associate professor of history at UCLA, applies the term to describe the treatment of American Indians in mid-19th century California in his book, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe. In two weeks, Dr. Madley will lecture at an FHSS event to argue that California Indians didn’t fare much better than Armenians, Rwandans, or even European Jews during the Nazi regime.

You’re invited

  • Who: Dr. Benjamin Madley, hosted by the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies
  • What: A presentation on the American Genocide
  • When: Thursday, September 21st, from 11 a.m. to noon
  • Where: B192 JFSB (the Education in Zion auditorium)
  • Why: To discuss important historical events that often lack awareness and understanding
american-genocide
Courtesy of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies.

An American Genocide

An American Genocide, in which Dr. Madley estimates that 9,000 to 16,000 California Indians were killed from 1846 to 1873, has been reviewed by The New York Times, Newsweek, The Nation, and many others. Some of Dr. Madley’s fellow historians have criticized his book for applying the term “genocide” to the conflicts between Americans and California Indians. Gary Clayton Anderson, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma, challenges Dr. Madley’s death toll estimates and characterizes the California massacres as “ethnic cleansing.” The reasoning? Dr. Anderson argues that government policy never supported mass killings, so the genocide label might be inappropriate.

But An American Genocide details murders and massacres carried out by vigilantes, state militias, and the United States Army. Dr. Madley “methodically [gives] examples of each and [tags] the incidents like corpses in a morgue,” according to Richard White of The Nation. A seasoned historian, Dr. Madley also compiles many accounts of the incidents in nearly 200 pages of appendices. Every reader can weigh the evidence and conclude whether or not the incidents were genocidal.

Dr. Madley developed a passion for the interactions between indigenous groups and colonizers during his childhood; he was born in Redding, California, and lived in Karuk Country in northwestern California. Dr. Madley has earned degrees from Yale University and Oxford University, and he has authored many journal articles and book chapters.

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Courtesy of UCLA’s Department of History.

 

How do you think historians should apply the modern definition of “genocide” to historical events?

Benjamin Madley to Present on the American Genocide

We know that American Indians suffered greatly during the expansion of our country in the mid-1800’s. Author Benjamin Madley actually calls what happened to them “An American Genocide.” Fully aware of the dramatic label he gives their sufferings, he details them and their specific causes in his book by the same name, and will discuss it at an upcoming event on BYU campus. He does so, not necessarily for the purpose of being polemic, but so Americans can be more fully aware of their history even as they condemn other countries for similar crimes. 

american-genocide
Courtesy of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies

According to The Nation, Madley writes because “in a world of genocidal violence, claims of American innocence and exceptionalism are dangerous.” His book, which has been talked about in Newsweek, truthdig,  The LA Times, and his upcoming discussion will help those desiring to know more about our history as it relates to the American Indian, and what can be done to change things.

An American Genocide

“Accusations of genocide in California are hardly new,” says Richard White of The Nation. “Many historians, anthropologists, and Indian activists have made them, but An American Genocide stands apart for two reasons. First, Madley is interested not just in spectacular crimes, but also in their institutional basis. Second, he doesn’t use the term “genocide” for its shock value; instead, he considers the term carefully before applying it to state and federal policies.” At the lecture, we can expect an educated account of what truly happened in California in the mid-1800’s.

California Indians have pointed out that although the Holocaust and the Rwandan and Armenian Genocides are taught in schools, the massacre of their ancestors is not. Madley is seeking to rectify this: “He argues that what happened to California Indians was, according to the most widely accepted definition of genocide, not all that different from what happened to Jews, Armenians, or Rwandans.”

The Event

Dr. Madley is a professor of History at UCLA. Originally from Redding, California, he spent a fair amount of time in Karuk County. The Karuk are a Native American tribe based in Happy Camp, California. From them, Dr. Madley “became interested in the relationship between colonizers and indigenous peoples.”  In 2016, the researcher published his book An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873. It won the 2016 Heyday Books History Award. However, that is not all he’s written; he has authored papers as well as book reviews and chapters. Dr. Madley further studies genocide in other countries including Australia and Namibia.

redd
Courtesy of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies

This lecture is part of the annual “William Howard and Hazel Butler Peters Lecture” series. It will be hosted by FHSS’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies

Do you think learning from the past can help us change the future?