Documenting the pain: Sharing Second World War survivors' stories to help meaning making and lessons learning through curating trans-European digital narrative trajectories

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Siegried Handschuh

    Universität Passau

  2. 2. Simon Donig

    Universität Passau

  3. 3. Adamantios Koumpis

    Universität Passau

  4. 4. Hanna Diamond

    Cardiff University

Work text
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“The world is the totality of facts, not of things” but facts do not speak for themselves; they have no voice. The life-world is the totality of human experiences. When people die, those experiences are lost, unless they are recorded in some way, becoming part of individual or collective memories. This includes Second World War survivors’ experiences of the role of the war in their lives, over their subjective time, and the physical and social spaces that they have traversed. With our research, we aspire to explore novel ways to capture, preserve, curate, organise and communicate this set of experiences, stories, narratives, so that they can constitute a shared resource that people can augment, and that individuals as well as institutions can delve into, to find inspiration for new ways of conceptualising acceptance, tolerance and understanding, and how these new ways can be reflected into every-day practices and policies, and foundations for visions of our future.
The Second World War was one of the major transformative events of the 20th century. Millions of lives were lost crimes were committed, physical capital was destroyed, populations were displaced, families experienced extended periods of separation, and many Europeans, including young children were exposed to the horrors of War. Unlike many earlier wars when casualties were mainly confined to the battlefield, during this conflict civilians were also directly affected by warfare. About half of the European casualties of the war were civilians (including women and children). At the end of the war, millions of people were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure had been destroyed. Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Second World War brought significant change to political, economic and social systems across most European countries and was the touchstone for the realization of the European project.

The trauma of these Second World War experiences and the upheaval it brought to ordinary people’s lives continues to have a compelling resonance in contemporary European societies. Formal commemorative practices on local, national and international platforms draw attention to the bravery of combatants and pay tribute to those who lost their lives, during this and other conflicts, as demonstrated by the recent commemorations of the centenary of the First World War and the 70
th anniversary of the Second World War. As the Second World War survivor generation disappears, their lived experience is also being lost. However, family story telling means that their personal stories continue to circulate. Individuals who have passed on their personal war stories to their descendants, along with these descendants, comprise contemporary European society and shape ‘European identity’. From a psychological point of view, citizens experience all these war-related political and economic changes on a personal level and they develop their own personal stories which may differ from official political discourses. Since past stories transform our present image of the war, and past stories can save both us and our descendants from committing the same ‘mistakes’ in the future, it is important to uncover, save and preserve individual’s personal and family war stories, and officially record them as a part of European cultural heritage. Our research seeks to develop a story telling platform and research framework which will allow for the collection of these stories. This will process material and narratives from three source types:

Resources provided by Second World War survivors which were originally collected at source / by the source (e.g. diaries, letters),
Resources provided by Second World War survivors that were later created in the form of memoirs or documentaries,
Resources created by third parties (family, children, others) and which may be of a variety of types like fiction / non-fiction works, scientific publications in the form of e.g. research dissertations, journalistic newspaper articles, posts in social media or blogs, etc.

They will be complemented by contributions from multimodal sources such as open data collections, closed archives, collections of pictures (drawings and photographs), video footage and sounds, etc.
We aspire to offer a unique access point for producing and annotating stories on the basis of impromptu / ad hoc ontologies that will be leveraged to construct trajectories of narratives over time. Besides a time-based order of the narratives, ontologies could relate key concepts, key emotions, and key arguments, in single narratives or over several narratives by the same or by different individuals. Part of the work can already start with narratives on existing community platforms exploiting the infrastructure.

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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