Genocide, torture and violence – Usage of graphic/explicit images in presentation slides

Last modified: 2022 Nov 10
Conclusion | Addendum | Link list

Well, let's start this blog with a heavy subject - I would very much like to start on a lighter note, however, I feel the following subject is pertinent and worth discussing:

Usage of graphic/explicit images in lecture slides

Over the last few days, I assisted my professor in updating presentation slides for her lecture "Introduction to Historical Epochs and their Problems II: Middle Ages" - and one of the main takeaways is:
Our current times are just as violent and gruesome as any imagined 'dark and barbaric' Middle Ages.

To substantiate this point, she utilizes photographic images of atrocities committed at Abu Gharib/Ghraib, of human rights violations at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and of a mass-grave near Srebrenica. These images are used explicitly for their shock value, and rightfully so!
Talking about history doesn't mean sugar-coating grisly events; otherwise we would partake in 'polite-washing' of history.

Don't we have a responsibility for the (mental) well-being of our audience members?
Don't we have a moral obligation to honour the memory/life of the depicted people (they're also human beings, you know)?
And shouldn't we treat our audience members as responsible and mature people who can make decisions for themselves?

These are rhetorical questions:
The outlined mindset constitutes the baseline for any discourse about history and academia I'd like to cultivate here.

My proposed solution for this dilemma is as follows:
Give the audience members the possibility to decide for themselves if, when, and where they want to view these graphic images!

To implement this solution, I used PowerPoints' feature to blur images and added a clickable icon which links to the original, non-blurred image:

Slide showing a blurred image of a mass grave near Srebrenica
One of the mentioned slides; link to the article shown.

You can download the slides here (.pptx) and here (.pdf).
Credits belong to my colleague, who pointed out that these images need some kind of Content Warning!


I want to conclude my rambling with some thoughts by Aaron R. Hanlon:
(My Students Need Trigger Warnings—and Professors Do, Too; 28. May 2015)

Trigger warnings are nevertheless important because no matter how knowledgeable and comfortable professors are with the intellectually and emotionally challenging material we teach, our students are real people with real histories and concerns. They do indeed want to be challenged—to be made uncomfortable by literature — but it’s our job as professors to do more than just expose them to difficult ideas. It’s our job to help see them through the exposure.


Mary Shnayien made an excellent point:

yes, it is context-dependent, but not entirely so, i would argue. i wrote a paper on this, unfortunately it is in german only, but maybe it is interesting for you:

while i understand your reasonings [...], i would argue that there are more reasons to not show or distribute hurtful material – its also how this material continues to operate. just because it is recontextualized in an academic setting doesn't mean it stops its affective effects on readers/viewers. i guess i would be less concerned with trigger warnings, but rather with finding a way to approach my subject that does not require trigger warnings for "shocking images", because ideally, my perspective is sufficiently far away from the material that it does not reproduce its violence.