Historian to use prestigious grant to analyse how activists use the memory of past atrocities

As a recent recipient of a prestigious ARC Future Fellow grant, historian Dr Kate Mcgregor is conducting research into how human rights activists use memory of human rights abuses to fight for justice.

Her research into human rights activists in Indonesia includes survivors of violence, members of human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International, journalists and artists, and will offer new insights into how activists attempt to deal with past injustices.

"I will look at whether the memory of past atrocities has assisted in human rights campaigns, and if so, how and why? How much does the effectiveness of use of memory depend on time and generation? How much are memories of the past affected by the changing perceptions of human rights through the media, decisions in human rights courts or repeated exposure to memories of injustices?" she said.

This project will look at Indonesian activism from the late Suharto period (1990s) to 2016 and will explore memories of: the Japanese occupation (1942-45) including forced labour and forced sexual slavery; the independence struggle (1945-49) focusing on Dutch atrocities against Indonesians; and the 1965-68 anti-communist violence, including mass killings and detention without trial.

"Although these events occurred within Indonesia, the memories can be placed within a global context of how they are remembered. Using an innovative framework, the project will examine how memories of injustices across the world can interact," she said.

The research will advance knowledge in the fields of memory studies, human rights studies and the history of Indonesia, and will help build Australian scholarly expertise in these areas.

Dr McGregor first became interested in Indonesia when she went there as an undergraduate student.

"I found the country so different to my own, and for that reason it was so fascinating. I switched courses from commerce to a combined Commerce and Arts degree and took up Indonesian language. I joined the Australia Indonesia Youth Exchange Program in 1995 and lived in East Kalimantan, living and working in a village with one road," she said.

Dr McGregor improved her Indonesian language skills through intensive study at Satya Wacana University in Salatiga, Central Java.

"In this research project I combine my passion for Indonesian history and for the area of memory studies. From the beginning of my PhD study I have been fascinated by how we change the meaning of the past for use in contemporary societies," she said.