I am currently working on a project about Holocaust memory, motivated by the question: Where does Holocaust memory live? As a teacher of the Holocaust for twenty years, I know that Holocaust memory lives inside survivors and those of us who have been touched by their stories. Increasingly, however, Holocaust memory lives in other spaces: physical spaces, such as museums and memorials, and digital spaces on the Internet. What does it mean, my project asks, for memory to be held in these different spaces, each with its own relationship to memory and permanence?
In August 2012 I had the opportunity to work on my project at the University of Southern California. I was invited by Dr. Tara McPherson (Ph.D., UWM, English, ’96) to work with the video testimonies housed at the USC Shoah Foundation, and to learn a new digital publishing platform called Scalar. Dr. McPherson is the lead Principal Investigator of a grant that is transforming the world of academic publishing. Scalar was developed as part of the grant that created the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, which investigates and develops “sustainable platforms for publishing interactive and rich media scholarship” (scalar.usc.edu). While academic essays are generally published in print and then put onto the web for greater access, in Scalar, the essay itself can integrate multi-media, taking advantage of the flexibility of the web.
Along with two other scholars (Jeffrey Shandler and Ethel Brooks, both from Rutgers University), I spent mornings learning about the resources of the Shoah Foundation from Dr. Dan Leshem, the Foundation’s Associate Director of Research, as well as from the primary staff of the Foundation. Afternoons, we spent at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy to learn Scalar.
It was an incredible week. At the Shoah Foundation, I found an intellectual community interested in the questions that concern me: How can contemporary technologies be used to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors? How can students best engage with these stories to deepen their understanding of the Shoah?
Learning Scalar involved what I could only call “mental yoga.” As an academic, I have been trained to create linear arguments. A well-crafted essay builds paragraph by paragraph, so that by the end, every reader has taken in the same information. Scalar, in contrast, uses the flexibility of the web to allow for non-linear paths. The reader who wants to know more about subject X might be encouraged to take a path to learn about that, but might otherwise stay on the central path. I found the mental yoga exhilarating, as it pushed me to rethink how to share knowledge with a reader.
The two experiences – an in-depth experience with the Shoah Foundation’s archive of Holocaust testimonies and learning a new digital publishing platform – paired with the hospitality and intellectual generosity of everyone at the Shoah Foundation and the Institute for Multimedia Literacy, along with that of Jeffrey Shandler and Ethel Brooks, added up to an extremely enriching experience.
I will be continuing to work on my Scalar essay on the Shoah videos this Spring. I have never before been as excited for yoga.