Philadelphia: Student is honored for genocide studies

Student is honored for genocide studies

Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, Aug. 01, 2004

By Wendy Walker, Inquirer Suburban Staff

WEST CHESTER, PA – For Jonathan Coull, winning the award from the
Pennsylvania Association of Graduate Students for best graduate thesis was
an honor, sure.

But getting to the awards ceremony at Bloomsburg University in June was a
real challenge.

Coull, who will receive his master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide
Studies from West Chester University later this summer, had sold his Honda
to pay his expenses. He ended up having to beg a ride from a friend who
delivers pizzas.

“The stereotype of a starving graduate student, that’s pretty much him,”
said one of his professors, William Hewitt.

Coull’s master’s thesis, “Imperial Gods: The Second Reich’s Stolen History
and its Evolution to Nazism,” explores the complicity of the German
government in the Armenian genocide during World War I.

“The [awards] committee liked the idea that I questioned the operating
procedure for the Western world,” Coull said. “The slogan ‘Never forget?’
It’s a failure. It’s not something that we live by. We need to change the
way we see the world.”

Coull wrote most of the award-winning thesis in the Sender Fredjowicz Study
Room at the university’s library. Named after a Holocaust survivor, the room
houses books, documents, videotapes, microfilm and artwork – and a small
Oriental rug on which Coull confessed to napping during his long hours of

Coull, 33, attended Upper Merion High School then graduated from East
Stroudsburg University in 1994 with a degree in criminal justice and
sociology. He spent two years in the Army, then did social work for Delaware
County Children and Youth Services, Northwestern Human Services, and other

Tired out from social work, he took a trip to Eastern Europe and visited the
concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, where a question lodged deep
in his soul: “Where do people get these sick ideas? It’s just wrong.”

When he returned home, the question continued to haunt him, and in 2000, he
decided to enroll at West Chester to pursue a graduate degree.

“I sold my Honda. I left a really nice King of Prussia apartment. I took out
student loans,” he said. “I wondered about my sanity.”

In the Armenian genocide, the political group ruling the Ottoman Empire,
known as the Young Turks, systematically deported, tortured and killed most
of the Armenians living in the empire during World War I. According to the
Armenian National Institute, 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915
and 1923.

Hewitt said that after Coull started studying the Armenian genocide, “he
really took off with it… . I guess you could say that I cast little grains
of sand, and he grabbed hold of it and really ran with it and made it into a

While earning his graduate degree and working on his thesis, Coull also
learned German, served as a teaching assistant, and helped to organize the
university’s Holocaust collection. “He did yeoman’s work on that,” Hewitt

It was an intense period, Coull said: “I was in the zone. The outside world
would just wash away.”

He said the horrific nature of much of what he read took an emotional toll.
“I would get depressed,” he said. “There were times I wept, for sure.”

Hewitt said that Coull’s thesis is a good basis for a Ph.D. thesis and “he
could get a really nice little monograph out of it.” Coull said he wants to
apply to doctoral programs to pursue his research, particularly at the
University of Toronto’s Zoryan Institute, but can’t afford it right now.

“I love the scholarly life. I love being an academic,” he said, “but the
transitions are brutal. You gotta pay the rent. What I need now is to get a

Send education news to suburban staff writer Wendy Walker, The Inquirer, 120
N. High St., West Chester, Pa. 19380; e-mail it to [email protected];
or fax to 610-701-7630. Contact Wendy Walker at 610-701-7651 or
[email protected].