11 The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Institute's Digital Video Archive: Searching through Nearly 52,000 Video Testimonies of Holocaust Survivors and Other Witnesses

Saturday, January 9, 2010
Elizabeth Ballroom E (Hyatt)
Karen Jungblut , Shoah Foundation Institute,University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Between 1994 and 1999, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation—now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute—interviewed nearly 52,000 survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust in 32 languages and in 56 countries.The Institute not only has the largest collection of interviews with Jewish survivors, but also includes a sizable collection of interviews with rescuers and aid providers, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, participants in war crimes trials, and survivors of eugenics policies.  The interviews are life stories and address a very broad range of social and cultural issues in the history not only of 20th century Europe, but the wider world as well.  Interviewees describe their lives before, during and after World War II.  Thus, they not only discuss experiences related to persecution and the Holocaust but also life in the country of birth and the country in which they lived after liberation.These videotaped life stories are digitized and fully searchable using an extensive index of geographic and experiential keywords and keyphrases.  At the core of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s indexing system is a controlled vocabulary, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Thesaurus of over 65,000 index terms.  These terms include geographical locations and time periods (e.g. “Mukacevo (Czechoslovakia),” “Germany 1941”), as well as location names (e.g. “Auschwitz (Poland: Concentration Camp),” “Hongkew (Shanghai, China: Ghetto)”) and experiences (e.g. “thirst in hiding,” “separation of loved ones”).  The names of 1.2 million individuals mentioned in these testimonies are also indexed and searchable.  These names include, for example, individuals such as family members, neighbors, teachers, government officials, ghetto or camp guards.Similar to the index of a book, the Institute’s index terms or keywords point directly to digital time codes (instead of page numbers) within the testimonies where specific topics are discussed, thus allowing users direct access to specific moments within the digitized videotaped interviews.These narratives offer an understanding of events as they were lived and filtered through personal reflection.  While their memories may or may not conform to the written historical record, these first person accounts possess their own unique historical value.

Secure digital access to this archive is available at a number of universities and institutions around the world and the network of connected universities continues to grow.Historians and scholars have begun to mine the archive and use the contents of the testimonies to inform their research and publish their findings.  In addition, faculty at participating universities have already used the archive to incorporate testimonies in over 120 university courses in diverse fields like anthropology, art history, business ethics, English literature, history, film studies, German studies, Jewish studies, law, linguistics, philosophy, political science, religious studies, Slavic studies, and women’s and gender studies.

This poster session will highlight the depth of the content and the value of the archive as a scholarly resource for research and teaching and demonstrate how scholars and educators can search the archive to find relevant material for their projects.


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