Live/Life Stories. The Uses Of Digital War Testimonies In Educational Contexts

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Susan Hogervost

    Erasmus University Rotterdam, Open Universiteit Nederland

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Since the 1980s, under pressure of the definite ‘disappearance’ of the eye witness generations of WWII, a wide variety of initiatives has been undertaken to capture eye witness memories for the future. Multiple oral history collections have been created throughout the western world, in which ten thousands of interviews and life stories have been preserved on audio and video. Parallel to the quest for individual war memories to collect and preserve, there has been an increasing effort to transmit these memories onto younger generations. In my dissertation, I have referred to this process as the pedagogization of memory, with which I point at the transmission of WWII memories onto younger generations as a crucial way of giving meaning to the past, and, therewith, in creating and sustaining identities (Hogervorst, 2010, Proske 2012, Macdonald, 2013; 200). Both practices respond to, and express, a perceived shift from war memory towards war history, although in different contexts of historical culture (Erll 2011; Assmann, 1999, 2006). It is through the digital revolution that, at the beginning of the 21st century, both of these practices have become intertwined; the shift from memory to history is accompanied by, or expressed by, a shift from collecting and preserving to disclosing digitized interviews for a wider audience, also for education (Bothe/Lücke, 2013; Barricelli, 2009, 2010).
My paper presents the first findings of a case study of my postdoc research project, that addresses the central question how online portals to digitized WWII eye witness testimonies are used in educational contexts – both formal education in history or civics, and heritage educational projects. The case study focuses on secondary school history teachers’ conceptions of digitized video testimonies as educational resource. Therefore, a group was composed of teachers interested in WWII, which was asked to explore different online interview collections. Through participatory observation and individual interviews with participating teachers, data was collected on expectations, desires and experiences regarding the use of digitized video interviews in history classrooms. The analysis focused on two different themes: (1) Participants’ conceptions of differences and similarities between live and digitized testimonies as educational resource; (2) Their experiences using specific online portals to interview collections. The latter will be the focus of my paper.
Participants were asked to explore two different online portals to different interview collections: (‘eyewitness stories’) and IWitness. is a Dutch portal hosted by the Netherlands Institute of War- Holocaust- and Genocidestudies, giving access to about 500 quite recently conducted video interviews (2007-2010), all in Dutch. The interviews address multiple WWII related topics such as resistance, daily life, persecution, and forced labor. The majority of these interviews is searchable at fragment-level as the transcripts and time-based key words that have been attributed are indexed and aligned with the video. The other portal is IWitness, the worldwide educational program of the USC Visual History Archive in Los Angeles. Through IWitness, in which a selected part (1,500 interviews) of the Shoah interview collection is made available online in an open, but supervised community of teachers and students. Twelve of these interviews are in Dutch. The video interviews can be watched and searched. Moreover, a video-editing tool enables users to select, annotate, and share video fragments, or to combine them with other fragments, photographs or information from the built-in encyclopedia. Because of IWitness’ theoretical fundament in constructivism as a learning theory, and the fact that it actively invites teachers (and students) to create their own learning materials with/within the program, it is unclear whether this program can be easily implemented in non-American education systems and practices.
In Dutch history education, oral history is not a common practice; neither as a source of information that pupils learn to assess, nor as a practice in which pupils are trained. Regarding WWII however, there is a modest tradition of inviting eyewitnesses in classrooms, mostly in the weeks prior to the yearly commemorations of the liberation in May. Video interviews are hardly being used in Dutch history education at this point. There seems to be a transition period, in which institutions disclose their interview collections for still undefined audiences, which are mostly unaware of the existence of such collections and their online accessibility, and continue current practices. It is this transition that is the background of my postdoc research project. Other case studies focus on video interviews in WWII exhibitions and educational projects.
The aim of the postdoc research project is, first, to gain insight in contemporary historical culture, and specifically in the effects of the digital in transmitting and appropriating war memories across generations. For instance it would be important to know whether there is some kind of digital ‘streamlining’ of testimonies with specific features considered to be suitable for educational purposes. The same goes for the eye witnesses as culturally constructed figure, that is already very familiar to us through the numerous films, documentaries, news reports, and exhibitions (Kansteiner, 2015; Keilbach, 2012; Gries, 2012). Which characteristics of the narrators are perceived as necessary or relevant for letting students learn from their testimonies, and why exactly? And how about the perceived historical realism and authenticity of the testimonies – are we perhaps more critical when we do not encounter the narrators in person?
The second objective is to explore and think through the needs of the educational and heritage field as users of digitized oral history collections. This corresponds to research such as the CLARIAH project Oral History Today, that has made the numerous oral history collections in the Netherlands available for scholarly research, in close cooperation with both computer technologists and scholars in the humanities. (Scaglioa et al., forthcoming; Kemman et al., 2013; De Jong et al., 2011). It is relevant to expand the gained knowledge about the scholarly uses of oral history collections, examining how digital technology can be applied to turn interview collections into a network of knowledge relevant to multiple audiences, including teachers and students.


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Conference Info


ADHO - 2016
"Digital Identities: the Past and the Future"

Hosted at Jagiellonian University, Pedagogical University of Krakow

Kraków, Poland

July 11, 2016 - July 16, 2016

454 works by 1072 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (11)

Organizers: ADHO