Holocaust Memory and Visuality in the Age of Social Media

Project Description
Currently, there are 11,701 images tagged with #holocaustmuseum, 6652 tagged with #yadvashem, and 16,735 tagged with #jewishmuseum on Instagram alone; all photos in these tags represent examples of individual visitor engagement with Holocaust museum and memorial sites, all of which provide me with a rich source base which requires interpretation and analysis. My PhD dissertation is an interdisciplinary analysis of embodied interaction with the presentation of the Holocaust in museum and memorial sites and the documentation of such experiences on the part of the visitor through social media. This project examines the evolving nature of visitor photography in Holocaust museum spaces and memorial sites, dissecting and questioning interactions between official Holocaust museum and memorial spaces and their publics as they support, contradict, and challenge one another using image-sharing platforms Flickr, Tumblr, and Instagram as spaces of expression and memory-making. I evaluate the shared images of visitors in the context of the development of social media policies of three of the largest Holocaust museums: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington DC), the Yad Vashem World Center for Holocaust Research, Documentation, Education and Commemoration (Jerusalem, Israel), and aspects of Berlin’s Jewish Museum.

My theoretical framework draws from the disciplines of visual culture, performance theory, and public history. This project presupposes the following: that museum spaces, both physically and conceptually, rely heavily on relationships of power to communicate the past to the visitor; that the act of photography is the visitor’s attempt to exercise control and present-ness when engaged in emotional experiences; and, that the act of photography must be seen as a method of active engagement with one’s spatial environment. Photography in museum spaces – particularly self-photography (i.e. the “selfie”) remains controversial; my project calls for a deeper consideration of twenty-first century photographic trends in Holocaust museum spaces, rather than the condemnation of these practices. The power of visitor photography, beyond its easy transmission in the digital age, lies in its dual function as a mode of visual representation and framework for the interpretation of the spaces in which we find ourselves, as well as representations of the self.

Drawing from the existing literature on Holocaust museums and the visuality of the Holocaust, my research is guided by the following questions: How do museums, especially those dealing with painful histories, make use of image-sharing social media platforms? What is the significance of engaging with visual culture in this process, and how can visitor photography serve as a didactic tool within and beyond the walls of the museum? How can visitor photography complicate museum and memorial spaces? How does the act of sharing a photo allow an individual to contribute to a visual memory-making process? Most importantly, how can historians read visitor photographs as sources, and what can they contribute to our understanding of public engagement with the past, in the present? I situate my evaluation of imaged-based social media platforms as important sources for historians within broad and necessary conversations about the nature of contemporary commemorative practices, public engagement with the past, and the changing nature of Holocaust memory in the twenty-first century.

Current Methodology
At the moment, my working archive is composed of a hodge-podge of the sources which I have drawn together: photographic material from guestbooks and biennial reports from the Jewish Museum Berlin; interviews with social media managers and local artists; visitor feedback reports from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and a rather unwieldy repository of images on Flickr, Instagram, and Tumblr.

One of the issues I struggle with from a methodological standpoint is the ever-growing (and ever vanishing) nature of my social media archive. Currently, I have been spending time scrolling through various hashtags on different platforms to manually screenshot and save new images. While this is a rather tedious method, it has allowed my to collect a wide variety of images.

Future Directions and Challenges
Currently, my approach to my methodology has been that of a social or cultural historian, and I believe one area of my research that I am struggling with is whether my methods reflect the nature of my project. While still in the research phase, I am hoping to expand my understanding of methods and tools through this seminar.

1. One of my objectives for this seminar is to engage in a discussion about the ways in which digital scholars frame their methodologies, and the shifting nature of this discussion as we engage more and more with digital source materials, or rely on digital methodologies to communicate shifts in historical practice.

2. I am interested in whether the group knows of any programs which can analyze a large corpus of images; as I am interested in tracking and analyzing shifting visualities, I believe this may be my first step in attempting to do so.

3. Similarly, I am interested in whether the group has had any experience using Gephi (or similar networking applications) to visualize connections between users of Instagram or Flickr.

‘Mapping German Enemy Citizens’. Digitising Dutch politics of (de) enemisation in the aftermath of the Second World War

In the years preceding, during and after the Second World War, the notion of citizenship with its links to nationality and legal protection by the state underwent radical change. Nazi policies had enforced a strict categorisation and isolation of citizens, with genocide as the ultimate consequence. German aggression and ideological constructions of Germanness and Brudervölkern had a major impact on the meaning of German nationality after the German capitulation as well. Occupied by Germany from 10 May 1940, the Dutch government in exile in 1944 declared all German nationals in the Kingdom of the Netherlands to be enemy citizens. Soon after the German capitulation in 1945, ten thousands of Germans were stripped of their assets, regardless of political allegiance or place of residence and without any Dutch compensation. Some were imprisoned or deported, others left at their own initiative. The project Germans as enemy citizens researches these Dutch policies, as a case in point to investigate how citizenship has been further put to the test after the Second World War.

Citizenship entitlements provide specific mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in transitional times. In this research citizenship is approached as an essentially contested concept, related to changing sets of definitions in terms of legal status, privileges and rights, social and political engagement and identity.

Before 1940, thousands of German nationals held residence in the Netherlands and its overseas territories. Some had a residence permit, such as Grenzbauern, migrant labourers and housemates, or were German through marriage. Others lived and worked as missionaries, artists and entrepreneurs in Suriname or the Dutch East Indies, or were – now stateless – German Jewish refugees without a Dutch legal status. After 1944, all Germans in the Netherlands were politically categorised as enemy, a decision against which they could appeal. Who were these Germans and what did their German citizenship imply for them? How did international discourse on ‘collective guilt’ and human rights affect Dutch politics on Germans and citizenship in the aftermath of the Second World War? And, how can these Dutch post-war policies be understood in a more global framework? These are central questions in this PhD project (2015-2019).

Internationally, research on Heimatvertriebenen, or homeland expellees, and German refugees and emigrants who themselves or whose ancestors had involuntarily lost German citizenship in other European countries, has resulted in a vast amount of literature. However, regarding the Netherlands, the history of Germans post-1945, as part of the post-war legal redress in general, has received little attention from historians and has long been separated from the historiography about the Second World War. Little research has been done on the German minority in the Netherlands and its overseas territories after May 1945, and to this day it is unclear how many people were affected by the Dutch government’s judicial, economic and policy measures implemented. This can be explained by the trends and phases, the different approaches to the Second World War. For decades, the first post-war years in particular, debate was coloured by moralistic visions, based on the categorisation of ‘right-fully behaving Dutch’ and ‘guilty Germans’. It can also be explained by the fact that there are almost no diaries, memoirs or testimonies. The only source that can provide insight in the experiences of German enemy citizens is the extensive but little researched archive of the Dutch Property Administration Institute, an Institute that was authorized to detect, manage and liquidate confiscated German assets.

The archive of the Dutch Property Administration Institute, stored in the National Archives in The Hague (NL), provides a valuable source to investigate the moral, political and financial considerations at stake in Dutch policies of restorative justice. It is the primary source for answers to questions like “who were declared enemy?”, “how were people categorised?”, and, “who was in a position to appeal against the verdict?”. Jurisprudence, letters of request for de-enemisation and in particular the defences of enemy citizens shed light on the Dutch post-war policies. However, to this day this archive of this Dutch Property Administration Institute has not been completely disclosed. Direct access to the personal records of enemy citizens is due to the Personal Data Protection Act restricted, which makes both qualitative and quantitative research more than seventy years after WWII still almost impossible. The only entry into this complex archive are the original paper index-cards (circa 25000 in total), used by secretaries then to organise and categorise their archives.

These cards contain personal data such as names, nationality, place of birth and place of residence, but also the final court decision. With the information on these cards, I can submit a request to research the personal files. But, using digital tools, the data on these cards provide more interesting information. Therefore, to process and manage archival data, a database was designed. This database functions as an archive of an archive, which considering the fact that the archive of the Dutch Property Administration Institute has not yet been disclosed nor digitalised, and that there are limited options to search through the files, this is a major advantage. More importantly, the database enables me to count, filter and query my archival data (see http://mariekeoprel.nl/queries.html). A first sample test (824 cards) proved that it is possible to count how many enemy citizens had the German nationality, and to filter on for example gender or whether the no-enemy declaration was given or rejected. Furthermore, the test showed that it is possible to plot geographical data, such as place of birth and place of residence, and map the geographical patterns of Germans who left the Netherlands, be it on their own initiative or because of deportation (see http://mariekeoprel.nl/data.html. Finally, the sample test indicated that entering the data in a database can help disentangle the bureaucratic apparatus the Dutch Property Administration Institute was. The cards also include a variety of stamps, comments and notes. Digitalisation of the cards into a structured database enables to work along and against ‘the archival grain’. That way, large scale patterns in the archival form can be identified and analysed, as well as the semantic information and in particular the used classifications.

Protest Spaces: Peace Movements in the United States and Germany, 1921-2000

Color_kasper-01Shelley E. Rose (Cleveland State University)

Jared R. Donnelly (Air Command and Staff College)

Project Overview

“Protest Spaces: Peace Movements in the United States and Germany, 1920-2000” (www.protestspaces.org) is a transnational collaboration of scholars from Cleveland State University in Ohio, Air Command and Staff College in Alabama, and Mannheim University in Germany. The research team combines historical data on protest and grassroots demonstrations gathered from American and German archives in a location-based multimedia database of protest events and archival materials in the United States and Germany, creating a geospatial research tool for humanities scholars worldwide.

Both the pilot and long-term project use Omeka and Neatline. The database will eventually include an archives section which maps the locations of archival materials gathered and deposited by activists in the United States and Germany. This central digital database will facilitate international cooperation and dissemination of humanities scholarship by providing scholars with a new analytical tool for studying protest and grassroots demonstrations.

“Protest Spaces” builds on Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Martin Klimke, and Joachim Scharloth’s premise that “current research on protest, dissent, and social movements is not confined to traditional boundaries anymore.” (Protest Cultures, 2) The project centers on three categories of protest events:

1.) location-specific events which occupy spaces symbolic to national or movement history like an Erinnerungsort, or memory sites such as the Frankfurt Paulskirche;

2.) issue-specific events which consolidate around a moment in history like the NATO Double Track Missile Decision (NATO Doppelbeschluss), US-Involvement in Latin America, the Vietnam War, and the First Gulf War; and

3.) transnational events which themselves crossed national borders and fostered connections between activists in different locations, such as Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) international summer schools in the 1920s and San Francisco to Moscow March for Peace from 1960 to 1961.

Each of the three categories includes the wide range of protest practices used by activists to appropriate public spaces, both in a literal and metaphorical sense, such as sit-ins, die-ins, military base blockades, nuclear free zones, and vigils. Through these lenses, scholars will be able to visualize patterns in the activists’ use of space which are otherwise obscured by the nature of archival research and the limits of studying protest events within individual archival collections. By curating information from diverse archives in the United States and Germany into the “Protest Spaces” platform, humanities scholars will have access to a unique set of geospatial visual data to enhance traditional academic protest research.


The project originally emerged from the dissertation research of Shelley Rose and Jared Donnelly. In 2014, we collaborated with Philipp Gassert and Philipp Baur of Mannheim University on a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) / Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Biliateral Digital Humanities Grant. We were not successful, but learned much from the external reviewer reports, including the challenges of applying to a program administered by two different national research agencies. One of the most important lessons was to have a small scale pilot project to showcase in the proposal to help reviewers understand what the digital humanities product will look like. This is why we are currently piloting case studies from each of the three categories above for our next cycle of grant applications in Fall 2016. This cycle will not include the NEH/DFG because the program has been discontinued.

Future Directions and Challenges

Protest Voices Project: This summer, two undergraduate student researchers at Cleveland State are collecting oral history interviews from local activists, focusing on anti-Vietnam protests and Cleveland’s active Catholic community which mobilized around four female mission workers who were murdered in El Salvador in December 1980. These interviews will provide material for the issue-specific category of the pilot project, and demonstrate the significance of including both American and German events in the Protest Spaces project.

Archival collaborations: In Germany, most protest movement collections are housed in a variety of movement archives rather than in the larger institutions. Protest Spaces will display information from these archives  to make sources more discoverable and aid in planning archival research trips. In the future, we hope to conclude agreements with the major archival collections in the US and Germany in order to provide rich content for Protest Spaces and publicity for the collections.

Future contributor policies: We need to consider how we will generate content long term. Should this be through an open call, like a call for encyclopedia entries, or keep content creation in the hands of our research team.

Integrating historical map overlays: One of the critiques from our NEH/DFG reviewers was that we need to articulate a clear plan for including historical map overlays. We are currently exploring Geoserver and other options.

Bilingual Interface: should we consider a bilingual interface? What would this look like?

Civil Disobedience and Opposition to the East German Regime in the Years from 1949-1953

Iris Bork-Goldfield (Wesleyan University)

How did citizens resist East Germany’s dictatorial regime, and what happened to those who were caught? These were the questions that I pursued and researched for four years. The main focus of my research was a group of young men and women who lived in Werder/Havel in Brandenburg, Germany, 30 miles southwest of Berlin. They wrote leaflets and secretly distributed them in Werder and surrounding towns. Some were caught, tortured, and spent several years in prison. Eight of them disappeared from view completely. It took 44 years–seven years after the Wall had come down—until relatives and friends found out what had happened to them. Based on interviews with survivors, historical documents that included Stasi files, photos, historical news reals, letters, diaries, etc., I produced a film documentary and wrote the book Wir wollten was tun (We Wanted to Do Something), which was published in 2015. The documentary is available online with English subtitles and German captions. They were created with both German and American students in mind (16 to 24 years of age).

Beate Brunow (Wofford College) and I developed teaching materials for both the film and the book for American students of German. We introduced our pedagogical materials at the ACTFL conference in November 2015. These teaching suggestions are available online on our own website but also with additional authentic materials on the website of the Bundesstiftung für die Aufarbeitung der DDR Diktatur. The materials can be used in conjunction with both the documentary and the book.

These materials were developed for the teaching of history in the German classroom but are easily adaptable to history classes. My original goal was to create a documentary where contemporary witnesses who were actively involved in the resistance between 1949 and 1953 tell their stories. I used a digital camera and a Macbook Pro laptop to record the interviews. I used a professional film editing program to create the video. The book tells the film’s story in more detail. The reader learns the historical background and what happened after 1953. A topic that is not mentioned in the documentary but included in the book is the resistance movement in the 1980s.

Useful and of interest for further research would be:

        1. Integrating research and teaching through digital humanities projects
        2. An online searchable textual database of the Stasi files.
        3. The creation of a GIS-oriented map in order to better visualize where resistance fighters were active and distributed their materials.
        4. A geotagged map of artifacts of various resistance groups, since the students from Werder were not the only ones who actively and secretly opposed the East German government.
        5. A website in which specific parts of the book are connected to the film.


Since I am not very familiar with geotags, cursor-activated popup windows, and Google
geocoding, I hope to learn more about them in the seminar. Such tools will help me make the
book and film a true DH project.

The question I have for the GSA seminar participants is whether they could imagine teaching
this topic (resistance in the former GDR) in their classes and what I or others—including
students—could do to explore and enrich this topic and make it accessible to the world.

Alea–A Digital Remixing Tool for Students and Scholars

Shuffling Büchner

ale·a·to·ry (adjective)

1. of or relating to accidental causes; of luck or chance; unpredictable

2. employing the element of chance in the choice of tones, rests, durations, rhythms, dynamics, etc.


Alea is a tool for reordering and rearranging pre-existing texts. Inspired by the cut-up, découpé techniques of the Dadaists, Alea invites users to drag and drop elements of a larger text in order to generate their own desired sequence of elements, thereby producing new causal, thematic, and temporal connections through deliberate or random experimentation. Each individual re-sequencing involves users in a struggle to explore how the ordering of specific parts of texts contribute to their overall structure, meaning, and aesthetic impact. Simultaneously, users will question their own modes of reading while questioning traditional critical perspectives and editing objectives. Once complete, Alea will foster both pedagogical use and scholarly exploration.


The tool’s concept emerged after more than fifteen years of engaging with the Woyzeck corpus, a dramatic fragment comprised of a series of seemingly unrelated scenes that form only a shadow of a plot: Franz Woyzeck, a soldier, father, and experimental subject, eventually resolves to kill his common-law wife, Marie, after a series of emotional injustices, social inequities, and underlying psychological issues drive him insane. Before the work’s author Georg Büchner could finish a definitive version of the play, he died from typhus at the age of 23. In an attempt to make sense of Büchner’s posthumous work, his family and editors deciphered, revised, and modified the 25 episodic scenes that the author left scattered across four separate, incomplete drafts.

While exploring Büchner’s drama with students at the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of Virginia, I noticed that they tended to struggle with or underperform on one critical thinking assignment: after discussing how a New York theater company once performed the play by drawing scenes randomly from a hat and found that the play invariably “worked” in whatever sequence emerged, students were asked to create and analyze their own reordering of the scenes. At first, students were reluctant, apparently unwilling or unable to experiment more with the corpus. I believe approaching Woyzeck in a printed format primed the students to perform weakly. Despite classroom discussions of Woyzeck’s editorial history, some students nevertheless seemed to believe that the printed order of the scenes was the infallible, immutable order so they were unwilling to explore the possibilities. Similarly, the printed format caused other students to struggle with conceptualizing each scene as a separate component with no fixed place in the order. This rich exercise and its full benefit were ultimately stymied by the corpus in a physical, printed format. Thus, a digital tool like Alea is necessary and can offer support as a pedagogic tool.

Future Directions

There are many possible directions for this project:

  • At the click of a button, Alea will present a random, computer-generated arrangement of the Woyzeck corpus. Given that the 25 scenes can be ordered in literally trillions of ways (25! or 1.551121e+25, to be exact), each click will offer new, never-before-seen possibilities.
  • Users will be able to create, save, and curate their own re-sequencings.
  • Users will be able to export their sequences as an .xml file that they can then use with a visualizing tool like Voyant to analyze the effects of the new sequence against more conventionally edited versions.
  • Users will be able to insert their own textual fragments into the Alea interface before remixing.
  • Users will be able to insert various media files, including text documents, audio files, and short videos, to create a multimedial collage.

Screenshots of Current Build (click to enlarge)

Alea's current interface is very utilitarian. Each blue bar bears the title of a scene from Woyzeck.
Alea’s current interface is very utilitarian. Each blue bar bears the title of a scene from Woyzeck.


Clicking on a scene's blue bar causes that scene's full text to expand below. Future builds will provide "collapse all" and "expand all" buttons to make rearranging and reading easier.
Clicking on a scene’s blue bar causes that scene’s full text to expand below. Future builds will provide “collapse all” and “expand all” buttons to make rearranging and reading easier.


Users can click and drag each blue bar into a new arrangement of their choice. In this image, only the first few scenes have been reordered. Future builds will feature a "randomize order" button that will rearrange the bars in an unpredictable manner.
Users can click and drag each blue bar into a new arrangement of their choice. In this image, only the first few scenes have been reordered. Future builds will feature a “randomize order” button that will rearrange the bars in an unpredictable manner.


Each participant will use these guiding questions to provide feedback for each project in their category: Research, Teaching, or Methods.

  1. How does this project contribute to teaching, learning, research?
  2. Does it create or reframe knowledge and/or help develop skills?
  3. Does is provide new ways of viewing/studying sources?
  4. How can the project contribute to inclusivity in our classrooms? (in terms of document/source diversity and/or accessibility?)
  5. How might this model/method be transferred or applied in other disciplines?
  6. Does the project allow for interdisciplinary/inter-institutional work/collaboration?
  7. Is it sufficiently rigorous in respect to the intellectual aims of the project and in what ways might the project be improved?

Presentation Questions: Methods

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on methodology:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. How can others employ this method?
  3. What are two challenges of this method?
  4. What is the future of the method/project?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.

Presentation Questions: Teaching

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on teaching:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. What is the main impact of the project in your classroom and on student learning?
  3. What are two challenges of teaching with DH?
  4. What is the future of this project?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.

Presentation Questions: Research

Each seminar participant will give a short, 10-minute presentation on his or her project at the GSA (schedule TBA). The conveners have divided projects into three categories: Research, Teaching, and Methods.  Each group will have a specific set of questions to address.

Questions for projects that focus primarily on research:

  1. What were your goals and how did the DH tools help you achieve them?
  2. Who is the primary audience?
  3. What are two challenges?
  4. What is the project’s future?
  5. One big question for the group that you want answered.