Video testimonies of genocide survivors in the USC Shoah Foundation’s digital archives are now being used for educational purposes by institutions of higher learning worldwide. Shoah also now offers tours of the facilities to enhance the learning experience.
The foundation is located on the first floor of Leavey Library. The next public tour is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m.
The foundation was founded in 1994 by film director Steven Spielberg. Krystal Szabo, Shoah Foundation coordinator of external relations, said while he was working on Schindler’s List, Spielberg recognized a need to document the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and allow them to articulate their experiences.
Currently, the foundation has more than 52,000 video testimonies in its archives, with an average length of 2 hours. Though most of the testimonies are from Holocaust survivors, there are also testimonies from those who have survived the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, the Armenian genocide and the Cambodian genocide, Szabo said. The foundation’s archive includes testimonies from 56 countries in 32 languages and is the largest of its kind in the world.
Anne Marie Stein, Shoah Foundation director of communications, said that the focus of the foundation is currently shifting from collecting testimonies to using the testimonies already gathered for educational purposes.
“There are over 70 classes at USC alone that integrate the testimonies into their curriculum,” Stein said.
Szabo affirmed this expansion of the foundation’s mission and said the shift was the reason the name of the foundation was changed from the “Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation” to the “USC Shoah Foundation —The Institute for Visual History and Education.”
“Today the institute strives to understand and share the insights contained with the Visual History Archive via a multitude of programs with educators, students, researchers and scholars on every continent,” Szabo said.
Making the thousands of digital testimonies in the Visual History Archive easier to navigate, as well as launching new educational programs that use the testimonies, has been a major focus of the foundation.
Among these programs are IWitness, which gives secondary school teachers and students access to more than 1,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses, and Echoes and Reflection, a Holocaust curriculum designed to help students understand the Holocaust and their own life stories in a personal way.
Allowing the Visual History Archive to be used in the development of curriculum at various academic institutions remains a priority for the Shoah Foundation. Currently more than 300 courses in 25 disciplines at 35 universities draw from the foundation’s archive of testimonies, Stein said.
One of these courses is IML 340, “The Praxis of New Media: Digital Argument,” at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Taught by Professor DJ Johnson, the course gives students the opportunity to take excerpts from the testimonials in the Visual History Archive and create their own short films or “digital arguments.”
“This class is very much like directed research projects,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to contemporize issues like the Holocaust and show how history and memory have been reshaped by testimony.”
Chris Rowe, a senior majoring in writing for screen and television, said that his experience in IML 340 was a profound, personal one.
“We were required to incorporate personal narrative with the testimonies we saw,” Rowe said. “I wanted my work to express how the testimonies really invaded the space in which I lived.”
Maddie Renov, a senior majoring in communication, said that working on her digital argument as part of the class and watching the testimonials from the Visual History Archive transformed her understanding of the Holocaust.
“I’ve been learning about the Holocaust my whole life, but being able to experience the testimonies is completely different,” Renov said. “The three women I featured had stories that really spoke to me. I felt like I knew them.”
Even students who haven’t been exposed to the foundation through class recognize the importance and significance of the archives.
“This is the only foundation I know of that does something like this, and I’m glad USC is a part of it,” said Freddie Archer, a freshman majoring in communication. “We definitely can’t forget such an important part of history.”
Katina Mitchell, a graduate student studying early music performance, had not heard of the foundation before but said it was something she would be interested in learning more about.
“It seems like a really great resource for research,” she said.
In addition to making the Visual History Archive available to schools and educational institutions, the Shoah Foundation began giving public tours of the institute last July. Monthly tours are free and open to the public and allow guests to explore the testimonies in the archive.