USC to host international genocide convention

Photo from USC Shoah Foundation

The USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research will host  the international conference, “Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies,” from Oct. 23 to Oct. 24. The two-day conference, co-sponsored by the USC Digital Humanities program, will be held on campus to provide a forum for scholarly discussions on how new methods of digital research can impact Holocaust and genocide studies.

Since its founding by film director Steven Spielberg in 1994, the Shoah Foundation has worked to create a forum for Holocaust survivors to tell their stories. Over the past 23 years, the foundation has collected a broad range of data, including thousands of personal testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.

Research Program Officer Martha Stroud shared how this information is used to shape the current knowledge about genocides and other episodes of mass violence through the contemporary field of digital humanities.

“The digital humanities field is this emerging field of study where people are using digital tools for humanities research, and they are inventing new methods, models and tools to analyze manuscripts and all sorts of different sources,” Stroud said.

Text mining methods are used to probe through massive amounts of text and find patterns and idiosyncrasies which may not have been previously apparent. One of the leading groups of scholars which are combining the digital humanities and genocide studies is the Holocaust Geographies Collaborative, which utilizes mapping tools and geographic information systems to represent movements of people during the Holocaust in ways not used before.

“We have collected [nearly] 55,000 testimonies — mostly Holocaust, but also Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide, the Chinese massacre, the Guatemalan genocide,” said Josh Grossberg, Shoah Public Communications Manager. “So now we have expanded beyond our initial scope and now we make these [almost] 55,000 testimonies.”

The interdisciplinary scholarship will allow leaders in their respective fields, scholars and graduate students to examine and provide insight into the topics addressed through these new digital tools. The conference will be the first time that the discussion regarding digital humanities and mass genocide are examined together.

“It’s not only about the Holocaust,” Stroud said. “There is also a researcher doing a paper about the Cambodian genocide, and we think these tools can be applied to a lot of genocides and the Holocaust.”

With the information collected, educational activities for schools in all 50 states and around the world inform about the impact of mass genocides in society. In addition, the conferences for the past three years have focused on relevant topics of research, including the Guatemalan genocide and the impact of Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List.

“Researchers are starting to use this massive amount of data that is in all of these interviews, to identify new trends and ask new questions that we didn’t know about before,” Stroud said regarding the advent of the new digital tools.

Among the innovations discussed, the Shoah Foundation will debut its new technology that enables people to have lifelike conversations with a recording of a Holocaust survivor long into the future. The interface allows one to ask questions and receive answers directly from a Holocaust survivor.

According to the Shoah Foundation, among the topics to be discussed by the two dozen scholars from Australia, Europe, Canada and the United States in attendance are the ethics of social media as a means of genocide commemoration and the capabilities of GIS for analyzing the Holocaust.