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Watch Timothy Snyder's René Girard Lecture

Online video of "Why Did the Holocaust Happen? A History Lesson for the Future" Delivered March 13, 2013 at Stanford.

Watch the lecture online at

Snyder is Professor of History at Yale and author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, a pioneering study of mass murder in Eastern Europe using sources in all the original languages. Changing our understanding of the roots of violence and the origins of the Holocaust, Bloodlands was selected as a Best Book of 2010 by The Economist and has been translated into German, Polish, and French and acclaimed around the world.

Snyder’s lecture, "Why Did the Holocaust Happen? A History Lesson for the Future," makes fresh research on this essential question accessible to a wide audience. "Everyone of good will acknowledges the centrality of the Holocaust, but we have scarcely begun to understand it,” Snyder said. “This is not just an intellectual problem, but a deep danger if we wrongly assume that acknowledging the catastrophe is enough to prevent something similar from happening again.”

The lecture series honors René Girard, who has elaborated a sweeping anthropology of religion and violence in his daring 50-year intellectual career. Born in France in 1923, Girard moved to the United States in 1947 and has pursued a unique transatlantic path ever since, publishing more than a dozen books in French all while teaching at American universities, most recently Stanford, where he is Professor Emeritus. Girard’s work has been translated around the world, he has been made one of only 40 “immortals” of the Académie française, and he was given the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award by the Modern Language Association.

“Great teachers are rare, and great minds who grapple directly with the most fundamental problems are almost nonexistent,” said Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, investor, and chairman of the Thiel Foundation. “The René Girard Lectures offer a forum to ask big questions as Girard has never shied away from doing.”

Imitatio, a project of the Thiel Foundation, supports research, publications, and events to further develop, critique, and disseminate Girard's "mimetic theory" of human culture. Girard hypothesizes that all the arts of peace and the disasters of violence have the same cause: the imitation through which humans learn how to talk and how to collaborate also leads us to rivalry and retribution. According to Girard, human cultures have survived this paradox by violently defining themselves against collective victims: scapegoating.

Timothy Snyder’s work boldly examines the role of violence in history. As the René Girard Lecturer he stayed on the Stanford campus for a week to participate in research and interact informally with students and colleagues. Snyder gave the inaugural "Conférence René Girard" (in French) on October 25, 2012 at Sciences Po in Paris, co-sponsored by the Département d'Histoire of Sciences Po and the Mémorial de la Shoah. The René Girard Lectures will continue to alternate between Stanford and Paris, Girard’s two intellectual homes, giving thinkers and audiences in both France and America an occasion to consider fundamental ideas.

The René Girard Lectures are free and open to the public.

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