Michigan State University is one of a growing number of institutions using video testimonies from genocide survivors to inspire new learning and research insights across multiple academic disciplines. The University is providing its students, faculty and researchers with access to University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive,* the world’s largest collection of eyewitness accounts from genocide witnesses and survivors, available through ProQuest.
“Moving forward into an era in which we will no longer be able to speak with Holocaust survivors personally, oral testimonies provide essential historical and emotional truths about the Holocaust,” said Amy Simon, William and Audrey Farber Family Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History at Michigan State University (MSU).
“Faculty from a range of disciplines are interested in furthering their research through this archive,” added Simon. “All of us hope to complement our printed sources with these oral testimonies as we write about history, language, economics, trauma studies, literature, and more. Many of us have also begun using these testimonies in the classroom, encouraging our students to delve into them in their own research.”
We asked Dr. Simon to elaborate on some of the unique ways research and learning are enhanced for students at MSU as the result of having access to this unparalleled primary source material.
Q: Faculty from a range of disciplines at MSU are interested in furthering research and learning through the Visual History Archive. What are a couple of unique examples of how these testimonies are being used?
A: One example is a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food & Resource Economics who is using the testimonies to examine the economics of genocide. Another professor in the Department of Linguistics and Languages uses them in her German classes.
Q: How have you been using the testimonies in the classroom to encourage your students to use into them in their research?
A: I brought my students to the library where they participated in an introductory session in which librarians showed them how to access and use the archive.
Since then, many students have developed research projects that use these testimonies as primary sources. Topics include religion after the Holocaust and the impetus for writing Holocaust memoirs.
Q: What are some examples of situations where you have used the archive in your teaching?
A: Early last semester, I showed testimony given by an American soldier who was part of a group of soldiers who liberated Buchenwald. The soldier described the horror of the situation, explaining sights and smells and the incredulous reactions of many of his fellow soldiers.
Seeing and hearing an individual who had actually witnessed the concentration camps had a powerful emotional impact on students and brought them closer to understanding the absolute monstrosity of the Holocaust.
Q: “How have the VHA testimonies impacted your students? How are students connecting to the material?”
A: These testimonies take the historical stories out of the realm of history and place them in the realm of the human.
Experiencing the emotional reactions of the survivors and witnesses has an emotional impact on the students. As a result, students are connecting on a personal level to the testimonies. They are also affected by stories of ongoing trauma that family members often reveal at the end of the interviews.
Additionally, students appreciate the richness of both the obvious and more subtle aspects of the testimonies. Students have noticed not only the words and emotions expressed by survivors, but also respond to the settings of the testimonies and family members included in the videos. Students comment on objects such as pictures in the backgrounds, usually in the survivor's living room. From these intimate observations, students draw conclusions and make personal connections with what they see.
*Visual History Archive
Survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust (1939-1945), Armenian Genocide (1915-1923), Nanjing Massacre (1937), Rwandan Tutsi Genocide (1994), and Guatemalan Genocide (1978-1996) have shared their stories and experiences in a collection of 54,000 two-hour audio-visual interviews with USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History.
ProQuest is honored to be in partnership with USC Visual History Archive to offer this material in its entirety to a broader audience and to contribute archival-quality transcripts of all of the testimonies. Watch the videos, and learn more.
Photographer's Description: Survivor sketch of inmates at camp B1
Photographed Site: Birkenau Concentration Camp
Photographer's Site Note: Taken at Oswiecim, Poland, 1992 June
Photographer: Mezga, Duane
Country: Poland (nation)
State: Śląskie (voivodeship)
City: Oświęcim (inhabited place)