Friday, July 24, 2020

"Terms that didn't exist at the time"

In his review of Walter Johnson's "The Broken Heart of America" in The New Yorker of May 25, 2020, Nicholas Lemann absurdly criticizes Johnson for his use of "terms that didn’t exist at the time to describe the motivations of historical actors: 'genocide,' 'settler colonialism,' 'ethnic cleansing' [...]." "Genocide" was coined in 1944 to describe ongoing events, but Lemann's logic implies that any discussion of Nazi mass murder prior to 1944 should avoid the term. And the distinction between "settler colonialism" (no matter when it was coined) and other types of colonialism can be usefully made as far back as classical antiquity. Lemann's criticism is thus both linguistically and historiographically ridiculous. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 July)

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