This is the fourth story in the “Meet the Departments” series. Each story will focus on a different department at USC Shoah Foundation: outlining its responsibilities, introducing its staff and describing how its work fits into the overall mission of the Institute.
From left: Emilie Garrigou-Kempton, Wolf Gruner, Shefali Deshpande, Martha Stroud
At just two years old, the Center for Advanced Genocide Research has taken shape as a multidisciplinary hub of the Institute’s research activities.
The Center was founded in May 2014, just weeks after USC Shoah Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary. It started out as a staff of one – founding director Wolf Gruner – and has since expanded to include three other staff members: Shefali Deshpande, Martha Stroud and Emilie Garrigou-Kempton.
The Center’s goal is to improve access to the Visual History Archive for scholars and to centralize and shape the research being done within the Institute, Gruner said. The Center hosts visiting scholars, awards six fellowships a year for undergraduates, PhD candidates and professors, and puts on conferences about various themes involving the Visual History Archive.
Gruner is the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History at the University of Southern California. Prior to his appointment as director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, Gruner established and co-directed the USC Dornsife 2020 interdisciplinary research cluster “Resisting the Path to Genocide” and used the Visual History Archive in his research on Holocaust resistance.
Gruner believes the Center has quickly established itself internationally as a place where multidisciplinary research is situated, and where disparate topics can be brought together through testimony, such as music and resistance or Latin America and genocide.
“We want to bring really intriguing, innovative, interdisciplinary research to [USC] campus,” Gruner said. “The next step is to develop our own research, not just to benefit from the great ideas of others but also develop our own interesting ideas. We want to try to accompany the collection of testimony with research programs in areas we are interested in.”
When he began hiring more staff to help run the Center, Gruner said he wanted to find young scholars from different scholarly backgrounds who would each bring complementary skills to the Center.
Deshpande first came to USC Shoah Foundation as an undergraduate on the Problems Without Passports study abroad trip to Rwanda in 2014 led by USC Shoah Foundation staff. She was so inspired by the trip that she began interning at the Institute. Today, she helps organize the Center’s visiting scholar lecture series, conferences and fellowships.
Though she is also pursuing her other passions outside of the Center, such as musical theatre and filmmaking, Deshpande said she enjoys being able to split her time between the arts and genocide research.
“I wanted to continue working with the Shoah Foundation and doing things that I care about,” she said.
Garrigou-Kempton, who just finished her PhD in French literature and gender studies at USC, is the Center’s newest member. As academic relations and outreach officer, she is responsible for building relationships with scholars, academic institutions and community members to broaden the community that is engaged with the Center’s activities and research.
Her colleagues in USC Shoah Foundation’s Center for Advanced Genocide Research department are very collaborative and open to new ideas and suggestions, she said. Her goal is to continue increasing awareness for the Center and its work.
“I want to increase our visibility, get more people engaged in our lecture series, and get more researchers from more disciplines to show all the things that could be done [with testimony],” she said.
Stroud got her PhD in medical anthropology from UC Berkeley, focusing on the Indonesian mass killings and detentions of 1965-1966. Her research included over two years of fieldwork in Java. Now, she is research program officer at the Center, where she designs and supervises the research programs that the Center will pursue, writes scholarly summaries for the Center’s website and gathers feedback from researchers as the Visual History Archive evolves.
She said some of her favorite moments have been working with visiting scholars.
“I love when I witness researchers discovering how much the VHA really holds and how powerfully the VHA can contribute to their research,” Stroud said. “When I first delved into the VHA, I think I felt the same astonishment, excitement, and possibility.”