Genocide, Testimony, and the Digital Archive

A Gephi visualization Website: Principal Investigator(s): Prof. Todd Presner, Germanic

In this new class, “Genocide, Testimony, and the Digital Archive” (German 110/Digital Humanities 150), students will investigate the ways computational tools and digital archives can help us preserve memory, ask new historical questions, and understand the various roles of survivor testimony. This undergraduate class will focus on the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (, the largest video archive of survivor testimonies of the Holocaust (Jews, Sinti and Roma, political prisoners, Jehovah’s witnesses, and homosexuals) as well as testimonies by survivors of the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and the Nanjing Massacres. Students will learn about the history of technologies for creating, capturing, and preserving testimony of human atrocities; study the production and transformation of testimonies through new digital and web-based, indexing technologies; deploy a suite of tools for computationally analyzing testimonies (database analyses and data visualization); and, finally, design new interfaces and digital archives for ethically preserving and transmitting the memories of atrocities.

Given the fact that genocide is not something in the distant past, but very much part of our contemporary world and, in all likelihood, the future, too, the questions of how we learn from the past, archive the memories of the past, and analyze the meaning of testimony are critically urgent. And given that the knowledge, archives, and analyses will deploy computational tools more and more, the class focuses on the memory and meaning of genocide in the 21st century.

CDH is collaborating with Prof. Presner to prepare the database of Shoah Foundation interviews for student analysis, train students in database querying and network visualization, and provide technical support to students as they attempt their own searches and visualizations.