Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands, to speak at Stanford on March 13

Author Timothy Snyder's talk on the Holocaust will inaugurate the trans-Atlantic lecture series in honor of René Girard, a leading thinker of our time and a member of the French Academy.

Timothy Snyder, author of the bestselling Bloodlands, will be the inaugural speaker for a new trans-Atlantic lecture series in honor of René Girard, a leading thinker of our time and a member of l'Académie française, as well as a Stanford professor emeritus of French language, literature and civilization.

Snyder will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, in Cubberley Auditorium on "Why Did the Holocaust Happen? A History Lesson for the Future." The lecture is free and open to the public.

Ine GundersveenTimothy Snyder portrait

Author Timothy Snyder will speak March 13 at Stanford in the first talk in the René Girard Lecture series.

"Everyone of goodwill 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 aim of the annual series is to present ambitious, cutting-edge speakers to talk at Stanford and in Paris, Girard's two intellectual homes. Snyder will remain at Stanford for a weeklong residency.

"Great teachers are rare, and great minds who grapple directly with the most fundamental problems are almost nonexistent," said Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel, a Stanford alumnus and chairman of the Thiel Foundation, whose project Imitatio is sponsoring the event. "The René Girard Lectures offer a forum to ask big questions as Girard has never shied away from doing."

Snyder already launched the French inauguration of the series at the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (known as "Sciences Po") in October 2012.

In Bloodlands, a book praised for its scholarly achievement as well as its humanity, Snyder describes how Stalin and Hitler enabled each other's crimes, working in tandem to kill 14 million people between the Baltic and Black Sea.

According to Anne Applebaum, writing in the New York Review of Books, "Snyder's original contribution is to treat all of these episodes – the Ukrainian famine, the Holocaust, Stalin's mass executions, the planned starvation of Soviet POWs, postwar ethnic cleansing – as different facets of the same phenomenon. Instead of studying Nazi atrocities or Soviet atrocities separately, as many others have done, he looks at them together … above all that their interaction with one another led to more mass killing than either might have carried out alone."

Bloodlands was named a best book of 2010 by The Economist, The New Republic, The Guardian, Reason and Forward.

Snyder, a Yale historian, continues the thought in the book he is currently writing, Global Holocaust, which describes the causes of the Holocaust in the breakdown of what some historians are calling "the first globalization," the expansion of world trade in Europe that began in the late 19th century and collapsed with World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.

"My aim in the current project is to provide a causal explanation of the Holocaust," Snyder wrote in an email. "Rather than moving forward over time and telling a story from German or Jewish history, I am writing chapters about the underlying causes." The book will conclude with implications for the 21st century.

Girard's writing has also examined the role of violence in history – making Snyder a natural choice for an inaugural speaker for the series.

In addition to Imitatio, the event is sponsored by the Stanford Department of French and Italian, the Cultural Services of the Consulate General of France in San Francisco and the Stanford Department of History.

Snyder's wife, Marci Shore, a Stanford alumna who is on the Yale history faculty, will also be speaking at Stanford in March. She is the author of The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe. Her work examines how the ghost of communism still lingers in Eastern Europe.

She will speak at noon Tuesday, March 12, in the CCSRE Conference Room. The talk is free and open to the public, but reservations are required by 5 p.m. March 7. A seminar on "Phenomenological Encounters in East-Central Europe" will take place at noon Thursday, March 14, in Room 307 at the History Corner. This event is also open to the public; reservations are required by 5 p.m. March 11.

Cynthia Haven is a visiting writer at the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages.

Cynthia Haven, Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages: (650) 736-3435, (650) 815-9839, clh@stanford.edu