Violence in the Classroom: Negotiating Historical Narratives in Rwanda and Sierra Leone
Jillian LaBranche

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Minnesota

Primary Discipline

Curriculum and Instruction
In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide. During that time, Sierra Leone was in the midst of an 11-year civil war. Although the logic of violence in these conflicts differed greatly, in both cases, civilians were mobilized to perpetrate violence against their neighbors, and civilians were targets of violence. Twenty years after these violent conflicts concluded, institutions in both countries grapple with whether and how to teach their sensitive histories to the next generation. During my fellowship year, I will analyze the interviews I conducted with educators and parents as well as my observations from history and social studies classrooms in both countries. I do so to understand how nationally created historical narratives are adapted, translated, and taught in the wake of mass violence in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Previous literature has shown education has the potential to promote future violence in post-conflict situations. Therefore, what children are taught about violence has implications for a country?s future stability. This project will contribute to the existing literature by examining how individuals, as part of broader educational systems, negotiate national narratives with their own experiences of violence in their efforts to educate younger generations. This allows for the further exploration of education, more specifically classrooms, not only as a site of memory dissemination but also a place where memory is constructed and perhaps even contested.
About Jillian LaBranche
Jillian's research uses comparative methods to examine how knowledge is constructed at the intersections of collective memory, violence, and education. Her dissertation research seeks to understand how societies that recently experienced large-scale political violence educate younger generations on that same violence. Jillian LaBranche is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. She has a B.A. in International Studies and M.A.s in International Human Rights and Sociology from the University of Denver and Brandeis University respectively. She has taught courses on the Sociology of Killing and Transitional Justice Mechanisms. In addition to the NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship, her research has been supported by the US Fulbright Student Program, the American Sociological Association, the Fern and Bernard Badzin Fellowship, the Anna Welsh Bright Dissertation Award, and the University of Minnesota Thesis Research Travel Grant. During graduate school, Jillian has worked closely with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, serving as the managing blog editor from 2019-2021 and a Research Assistant for Alejandro Baer?s ongoing project that seeks to understand how education can be a form of reparative justice in Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada. Furthermore, she has participated in the Genocide Education Outreach program, teaching children and the broader Minnesota community about genocide and mass violence. In collaboration with the Center, Jillian has also helped design educator workshops and an upcoming educator conference on how to teach these difficult topics.

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