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Visual History of the Holocaust: Rethinking Curation in the Digital Age

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VHH (Visual History of the Holocaust: Rethinking Curation in the Digital Age)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Facing a growing distance to the historical period of the Holocaust, the organized mass murder of European Jews during the Second World War, museums and memorials as well as researchers and educators are confronted with new challenges. A dominant question in this context is how to establish new connections to the memories from the past, which became a crucial reference frame and formative event for many societies. Correspondingly changing media environments, technologies and practices reach beyond controlled practices of reexperiencing, re-enacting and secondary witnessing that dominated “classical” commemorative forms such as rituals and ceremonies as well as conventional media such as film and television.
In the museum and cultural heritage sector the term “curation” recently, and in the light of this changing environment has been redefined to reflect the more interdisciplinary and engaged way cultural collections are developed, maintained and communicated to the public. Interactive and participatory modes that characterize digital and online media call attention to less controlled modes of engagement. Therefore, it became necessary to explore innovative ways of applying new technologies that focus more on the user’s identity and interests in relation to learning history and developing socially inherited memories. Users need to establish a space for their own active engagement, negotiation and creation in order to render past events relevant and accessible for current generations. The Visual History of the Holocaust project is concerned with digital curation, focusing on advanced digitization, digital analysis, and linking of significant filmic records with other documents and sites of the Holocaust. It aims at challenging and expanding the concepts of heritage material curation in the digital age. However, this integrated concept for digital curation also goes beyond current technology-orientated models for managing digital collections. The goal is to combine these principles with principles developed in museum curatorship, and with innovative approaches in interactive storytelling and database-driven narratives to establish new modes of active participation and collaboration.
Major goals achieved in Year 1 include:
The state of advanced digitization in peer cultural organizations was assessed and resulted into the formulation of a comprehensive set of best practice documents intended to inform the digitization of film materials and related non-filmic archival materials in film heritage institutions.

The VHH team established working relationships with a number of archives and memory institutions holding relevant primary materials (films, photographs and documents), in the USA, United Kingdom, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Core concepts of the Visual History of the Holocaust Media Management and Search Infrastructure (VHH-MMSI, aka the VHH platform) were developed. Key concepts enabling curated access and interactive engagement with the platform were discussed and defined.

The team developed a standards-compatible metadata schema to capture and manage metadata on archival materials, ensuring compatibility with contemporary European standards. To allow for the rich and interdisciplinary time-based description of the contents of the digitized cultural heritage materials the team created a set of controlled vocabularies.

The methodological foundations for the automated analysis of content – text, images, video and audio recordings – were established. Methods for extracting filmic techniques from digital video files were developed, and speech-to-text services were explored in order to transcribe audio recordings in multiple languages.

To provide for the effective stakeholder management a comprehensive database of stakeholders was set up. The project’s goals, research questions and first findings and outcomes were disseminated via a number of public events, stakeholder meetings, and academic conferences to relevant stakeholders from public and private bodies.
Visual History of the Holocaust focuses on developing a new, inclusive concept of digital curation that will innovate curatorial work with digitized film and media collections and lay ground for new forms of experience and user participation through its shaping of engagement levels. The project will establish a platform and technology-driven workflows for the comprehensive analysis, annotation, and mapping of individual events and places, stories, formal and narrative patterns detected in the film records, and the multimodal aggregation of this data in a decentralized infrastructure.

Digital curation signifies a paradigm shift from a tacit recordkeeping role to a highly visible community participation that many archival and heritage institutions went through in recent years. Its basic framework is the curation and preservation of data. For making this data accessible and subject of use, reuse, transformation and creation, the project adopts methods from museum curatorship and heritage curation. The specific tools that enable the creation of new and interpretative media of information are interactive storytelling and technology-driven personalized engagement and learning. Those techniques and practices inform specific ways of engaging with the past, especially an active mode of exploration (repository), methods of enquiring, comparing and interpreting (analytical tools) and transformation and co-creation (application). Embedded in a strong ethical framework the resulting platform will exemplify what contemporary approaches to cultural heritage curation call “spaces of agency” empowering citizens to reconfigure, combine, enquire, link and amend historical material, and to share them with others.

In conclusion we report that we are well on track to deliver results against the expected impacts of the Visual History of the Holocaust project

(Impact 1) New technologies and methods will help to present cultural heritage in a comprehensive and attractive way: progress in the design of the VHH platform as a best-practice example of digital curation of filmic cultural heritage materials.
(Impact 2) Supporting the promotion and understanding of Europe´s cultural heritage: the research aimed at aggregation of dispersed filmic heritage materials and their associated context materials is well underway.
(Impact 3) Demonstrate how improved preservation of objects, collections and sites will enhance cultural history and cultural tourism: progress towards defining the VHH platform based on use cases demonstrating the relevance of cultural materials for current generations, on-line as well as on-site at places of commemoration.
(Impact 4, 5 and 6) Economic, social, research and cultural impact for content-owning creative industries and cultural institutions / Gains from use and re-use of digital assets for cultural institutions and content-owning industries / Enhance re-use of digital assets: progress in developing methodologies, schemas and vocabularies for rich, time-based annotation of cultural heritage to unlock previously inaccessible contents for industry and cultural use alike; development of an Advanced Digitization Tool Kit to offer validated approaches to sustainable digitization and long-term preservation of digital cultural materials for cultural and not-for-profit institutions.
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