Virtual Holocaust Memory: from Testimony to Holography

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of English

Abstract

This Fellowship investigates the ways that digital culture and the passing of time are shaping a new era of Holocaust remembrance in the West. Broadly focussing on what the Holocaust means for those with no strong personal links to the genocide, the book that will result from this Fellowship coins the term 'virtual Holocaust memory' to describe forms of cultural and educational encounter that are highly experiential, digitally-mediated, and linked to powerful utopian narratives about personal development and political resolution (such as the refrain 'never again'). As digital artworks, museums, memorials and archives proliferate, consuming the Holocaust has become easier than ever before; yet I will question the degree to which the virtual memories engendered within emergent digital societies can underpin significant social change, not least because the rise of virtual Holocaust memory coincides with a period of deepening global economic inequality and political unrest.

While recognising the importance of digital culture for the transmission of Holocaust memory, in the book Virtual Holocaust Memory I will argue that Western cultural and educational practice must meaningfully reengage with the traumatic experiences and sense of extremity that made reading, writing and viewing so difficult for survivors and their contemporaries in the immediate post-war period. As well as surveying current digital trends, I will therefore explore non-digital spaces and modes of representation such as literature, poetry and camp sites to ask how their complex representational strategies might inform the digital artworks, archives and institutions of the future. Ultimately, I will argue that virtual Holocaust memory must engage the sense of responsibility towards the past that any personal or collective 'memory', in the strictest sense of the word, might properly be expected to entail.

As well as exploring the changing nature of Holocaust memory on theoretical and critical levels, this Fellowship will involve close collaboration with groups who are actively involved in keeping those memories alive. I will run a two week events programme at the newly-opening Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre supported by two postgraduate or early career researchers. Using video conferencing technology we will facilitate a range of transnational and transgenerational interactions between survivors, their families, professionals, volunteers, academics and members of the public at three further partner organisations: the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, the National Holocaust Centre (UK) and the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association (UK). These events will consider how digital technology is shaping Holocaust memory in different global contexts and participants will reflect on how their experiences, skills and expertise might contribute to the future development and use of such technologies.

My research will appeal to a wide community of scholars working in Holocaust studies, memory studies, genocide studies and connected disciplines, also prompting debate and discussion amongst teachers, creative practitioners, students, museum professionals and members of the public. I will develop a suite of digital materials for a project website, including professionally-filmed interviews, video essays, vlogs and podcasts, in which Holocaust survivors, researchers and educators will reflect on current issues relating to Holocaust memory and its mediation in digital societies. I will also convene a seminar series for scholars at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York under the title 'Memory, Trauma and Violence', providing an intellectually rigorous forum within which a new generation of researchers will be able to present work-in-progress and engage with world-leading academics on a regular basis.

Planned Impact

This Fellowship will allow me to place the intellectual resources of a new generation of UK researchers at the heart of the newly-opening Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre's (JHGC) ambitious public events programme, involving schoolchildren, teachers, Centre staff (7), volunteers (over 100), heritage professionals, creative practitioners and members of the public. The Executive Director of the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation, Dr Stephen Smith, has confirmed his willingness to be involved in the design and delivery of this programme, and the involvement of the USC Shoah Foundation will give us access to their Visual History Archive which contains over 52,000 eyewitness testimonies and is the largest digital collection of its kind in the world. The sessions will be fully documented through archived presentations, recorded webinars and blogs which will be made available online so they can be shared with staff at other museums such as the Holocaust Centres in Cape Town and Durban and new staff at the JHGC as part of their induction. This events programme will ensure that staff, volunteers and visitors at South Africa's three Holocaust Centres (and beyond) engage with new thinking about Holocaust memory in the digital world, informing their educational, archival and curatorial practice.

Holocaust survivors, their families, members of staff and volunteers at the Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association (HSFA) and the UK's National Holocaust Centre (NHC) will be directly linked to the Johannesburg events programme through video conferencing technology. The HSFA is a Leeds-based charity (the only one of its kind in the North of England) made up of 120 members, including 85 survivors, their families and other interested individuals. The organisation works to preserve the memory and testimony of Holocaust survivors, while providing them with friendship and support. The NHC is a major Holocaust education organisation based in Nottinghamshire which has around 20,000 visitors per year. Participation in this events programme will add an international dimension to the training and educational programmes offered by both organisations, while opening new dialogues about the uses of digital technology that will involve critical, professional and personal perspectives. HSFA members will also contribute to the Transnational Holocaust Memory website through short films and interviews, ensuring that my research has a meaningful social impact and sustains strong links between the University and a valuable Holocaust education organisation working in the local community.

A key reference point for the events programme will be an animated film series called Children of the Holocaust, based on the testimony of survivors from the HSFA. The films, which have recently been nominated for a BAFTA, were commissioned and screened by BBC Learning and produced by Fettle Animation, a Leeds-based media company. Fettle will benefit by reaching new international audiences, creating links with international Holocaust education institutions such as the JHGC and engaging in conversations with academics, educators and digital arts practitioners.

Members of the public and professionals with an interest in current thinking about Holocaust memory will be able to access new research and resources through the Transnational Holocaust Memory website. Audio-visual material will be filmed by Leeds Media Services (LMS) and along with new written material will offer a rich resource for educational organisations and a point of reference for professionals working in sectors such as museums, tourism and the creative industries who wish to reflect on the transmission of Holocaust memory by accessing cutting-edge research. LMS will gain commercial and reputational benefit by being commissioned to produce the audio-visual content associated with this Fellowship.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The project has enabled me to develop case studies and the theoretical framework for a book entitled Virtual Holocaust Memory: Posthuman Poetics in the Digital Age
Exploitation Route I will continue to work with Holocaust museums and educational organisations to explore the changing shape of Holocaust memory in the digital age.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description The award allowed me to lead a two week event programme at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, in partnership with the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. It has also informed my ongoing work with the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (I serve as a member of their Academic Advisory Board) and events I have run for the Holocaust Educational Trust.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Next Generation of Immersive Experiences
Amount £60,276 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R009449/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 09/2018
 
Description Virtual Holocaust memory 
Organisation Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Running public event programme in September 2016.
Collaborator Contribution Use of facilities; coordination of events; engagement of staff and their audiences in events.
Impact N/a
Start Year 2016
 
Description Virtual Holocaust memory 
Organisation Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Running public event programme in September 2016.
Collaborator Contribution Use of facilities; coordination of events; engagement of staff and their audiences in events.
Impact N/a
Start Year 2016
 
Description Holocaust education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Presentation at teacher training event run by the Holocaust Educational Trust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016