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Internship Update #4: Spring Semester

I recently began the second semester of my internship with the Smithsonian’s Conflict Culture Research Network. Last semester, the George Mason interns worked on archiving museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean. This project was particularly important at the time due to the multiple major hurricanes that hit the Caribbean around last September. The CCRN had no information on Caribbean museums cataloged, so this region was designated as a priority. I worked on cataloguing museums in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Our work on the Caribbean finished up in December.

Starting in January, the GMU interns began working on finalizing lists from other countries around the world that are not finished yet. I specifically asked to work on the Poland list because my research focuses on Polish history. I am very grateful to be able to work on this list and am thankful to the Smithsonian staff for allowing me the opportunity to work with data that interests me.

When I first received the Poland list, about eighty percent of the list had already been mostly completed. However, it was difficult to work on the rest of the list because the list was in no specific order. This became an issue for me when I started to work on one museum but had difficulty finding it on Google. I wanted to look at the other museums listed in that same town to help distinguish which specific museum I was looking for on Google. However, it was really difficult to find the other sites because the list was in no order. Because of this, I reorganized the list so it would be alphabetical by town name. In this way, I can view all the museums in the same town easily which can make discovering other museum sites much simpler.

This work is slightly different than the work we were doing last semester. Last semester, we had small lists of sites in the regions we were assigned. It was then up to us to discover all the information we could on them and also find other museums that were not already on the list. This semester, we are working primarily on finalizing museum lists. The lists we are working on are nearly finished, it is just up to us to finish them.

I am not sure yet what we will be assigned after we have finished these sites. The Smithsonian wants to create a digital platform for the data we are compiling and we talked at one point about helping them think of the best way to share this information. Hopefully we will get to work on that component of the project. It would be exciting to help them establish this data on a digital site.

This internship was the perfect experience for me. I am still working on my master’s degree which takes most of my time. Working on the spreadsheets can be calming, especially when compared with my work for school. I also find this internship interesting, as I love museums and cultural heritage. Finally, I enjoy working on a project that resonates with me, as some of my research focuses on the preservation of material culture and memory.

Internship Update #3

As of now, I have been working on the SCRI’s Culture Conflict project for nearly three months. Not much has changed since my last post, so I will briefly go over what I’ve done since and where our projects will go from here on out.

Since the beginning of the internship, I had been tasked with compiling a list of museums that are located in Puerto Rice and the US Virgin Islands. It was not always easy finding these museums. For Puerto Rico in particular, the sheer amount of museums in this small island was somewhat overwhelming. Adding to that, the lack of power that Puerto Rico is STILL experiencing due to the hurricanes that hit months prior, it was difficult to find information on museums as their internet servers were down.

In the end, I was unable to fully complete the Puerto Rico dataset. The last remaining areas that need to be completed are the descriptions of the museums, which I had trouble finding due to websites not working. But I checked with our internship coordinators and they were satisfied with the progress and understood that there would be issues because of Puerto Ricos’s lack of power.

The US Virgin Island list was easier to complete. For the most part, I didn’t run into the same server issues as I did with Puerto Rico. Though it was more difficult to distinguish between museums that were real cultural heritage institutions versus those that were made for tourists, I was able to track down and record information on around thirty museums in the US Virgin Islands.

Since we have hit a stopping point with the Caribbean museum lists, the GMU interns will be starting work on different museum sets in the next few weeks. I am excited to start working on the Polish museum list, as this is the country that I spend most of my time researching.

A future component of this project will be a discussion about how to create a digital space for the cultural heritage repository lists. Though our coordinators have mentioned that this is an end goal for our internships, we have not had much of a chance to discuss this yet. It will most likely be a project for the next semester. I am looking forward to these discussions. It will be interesting to see how we can use our digital humanities skills to help the Smithsonian with this project.

Two Months into Virtual Internship

It’s hard to believe that it has already been two months of working on the SCRI project. For two months now, I have been working on cataloging and documenting museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean.

To reiterate, the general goal of the SCRI project is to create a list that includes all cultural heritage sites in the world so that in case of some form of disaster, people would be aware of what cultural repository sites exist in that region so that they could help save the cultural heritage within them. The George Mason interns (there are now four of us) started out tasked with documenting sites in the Caribbean. But when multiple large hurricanes hit the Caribbean, our task became amplified. We suddenly needed to work as hard as possible to immediately document the museums in the Caribbean. Our work would potentially help FEMA and other agencies determine where to send help.

I have been working specifically on discovering and documenting museums in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). So far, I have documented 133 sites in Puerto Rico and 29 sites in the USVI. There has been some difficulty in documenting and recording information about these sites that were unforeseen. The main issue I have run into is the fact that many servers in Puerto Rico and the USVI are down due to the loss of power that is still ongoing after Hurricane Maria. It seems that the longer the power is out, the more servers go down and therefore the more difficult it has become to find information on these sites. Of course, this problem seems minute when considering that power loss is still impacting over fifty percent of Puerto Rico. Much of this work has been humbling to say the least.

This next week will probably be my last week working on the Puerto Rico and USVI datasets. I will be finishing up the spreadsheets, working on finalizing the description sections and general “cleaning up” of the data. After this, the George Mason interns will be tasked with other countries. Because of my research interests in Poland and Eastern Europe, I have been told that I will start there. I am very excited to work on these lists, as so much of my studies and research are focused on these regions.

We have also been told in a recent conference call, that next semester’s work will be more focused on how to create a digital site that will incorporate all of the cultural repository data. This will probably be a very difficult task, but I look forward to the conversations and work that will go into it.

Beginning of DPH Internship

For the next two semesters, I will be interning with the Smithsonian Institution, specifically through their Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. While this group is multi-facetated, I will be working on one of their projects in particular, the Conflict Culture Research Network. To sum it up as briefly as possible, the goal of this project is to document all of the cultural heritage sites throughout the world. Currently, no single list exists that compiles such sites. Our efforts will work to fix this. With such a list, we would be able to better locate sites of cultural heritage in events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, or even human destructions to sites were to occur. In these cases, a list of sites within a damaged nation, would help us assist these sites and save whatever culture heritage we could.

As our work with the Smithsonian began, the US and Caribbean got hit with three major hurricanes within a week. Suddenly, our project became imperative. The three George Mason interns were told to immediately focus on documenting museums in the Caribbean. As we got to work on this, I was tasked with focusing solely on Puerto Rico, as so much damage occurred to this island with Hurricane Maria.

My main project, currently, is to work on a spreadsheet that contains a list of museums in Puerto Rico. We need to record their latitude and longitude, along with other information about their cultural affiliations and holdings. While working on this spreadsheet, we received a spreadsheet from FEMA, listing the museums they believe exist in Puerto Rico. I was then tasked with comparing our list with theirs, and adding any sites that were missing from the FEMA list. This is the most recent task in the project that I have been working on.

So far, I am enjoying this internship. It is important work that has a very clear purpose, especially now with the recent massive hurricanes hitting the US and Caribbean. I also enjoy the simplicity of the task, though that doesn’t mean it is easy. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to discern aspects of the museums, which museum is which, and also specificities of the museums. This is especially true for the smaller, local museums.

I also feel very connected to the Smithsonian, even as a “virtual intern.” I was able to go to the Smithsonian for our initial meeting and meet some of the people working on this initiative. I may also get the chance to go into the Smithsonian more often later on in the semester.

I am very excited to continue working on this project and delve deeper into other components of the project.

Fifth Update: Text for Project

I’ve been searching for information on a specific memorial that I would love to use in my project. But it’s been more difficult to find this information than I had previously expected.

This week’s project update asks for a textual piece of information that we would like to use in our project in some way. A very important law, when discussing Polish memory, is the law of Commemoration of the Suffering of the Polish People, which was enacted on July 2, 1947 in Poland. I want to have a portion of this law on my project site because this law played an important role in the transmission of memory in Poland, specifically at sites of death camps.

 

One site I want to discuss in this project is the Majdanek State Museum. The museum is at the site of the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland and today provides valuable education on the Holocaust in Poland. What’s really interesting about the Majdanek State Museum is that it was set up in 1944, as the camp was liquidated by the Red Army, and became the state monument of martyrology for Poland. However, what that information doesn’t tell you, is that the museum (in its formative years) did not accurately portray the intent of the camp as well as the primary victims of the camp. Most information portrayed at Majdanek in the initial years of the museum did not mention Jews as the primary victims.

The Law of Commemoration of the Suffering of the Polish People played a crucial role in shaping the remembrance of the Polish people. In it’s initial years as a museum, Majdanek State Museum focused on its Polish victims, rather than its Jewish victims. This had incredible repercussions for the Polish understanding of the Holocaust.

I have a copy of a piece of the law that is specifically about Majdanek that I will incorporate into the project. I will also provide a translation since it is in Polish.

Project Update: 6/23/17

The following image is one of my favorite photographs that I’ve come across in my research and one I want to use in my project:

(Photo by Hank Walker/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

This image shows the Rapoport Monument to Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland in 1948. I love this image for quite a few reasons. The ruins are what is most evident in this photo. But someone with no background to this monument or this image might assume that it withstood whatever caused the rubble around it. It is not obvious from a first glance what this monument symbolizes or what it was built for.

This monument was actually built immediately after the end of the World War II by Nathan Rapoport, in honor of the Jewish men and women that were a part of and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The area where this memorial was built is called Muranow, a neighborhood where many Warsaw Jews lived before the war and where the Warsaw Ghetto was established during the war. This region was completely destroyed during World War II, leaving nearly thirty feet of rubble covering the entire region.

For this reason, this monument is even more remarkable. It is one of the first monuments to the Holocaust that I know of that was built in Poland after the war. It was built and established before Warsaw could even be repaired. This region did not have homes, or theaters, or restaurants, but it did have this memorial.

Today, the site is unrecognizable, except for this monument. Muranow has been built around this monument ever since the end of the war.

This monument is really a unique example of post-war monuments in Poland. When used in comparison with other monuments built in Poland post-World-War-II, this monument could be a fascinating way to understand memory in the post-war period. It shows a complicated aspect of memory…the new memorial in stark contrast to the ruins of Jewish life in Poland. I am excited to use in my project!

Film and Teaching History

I have always found film to be fascinating. I love seeing movies, and I particularly love historical films or historical fiction. Film provides opportunities for us to “look into” the past, in a way that is unique and cannot be replicated. However, it is important to remember that films are not always historically accurate. They, too, provide a specific narrative on the past. The important thing is to be aware of the narrative that the film suggests and to approach the film critically, as we would any other historical document.

I have only taken one film class, but it was a fascinating course. It was titled “Russian and Soviet Cinema” and it was taught by one of the best professor at my undergraduate institution. At the time, I knew almost nothing about film and only slightly more about Russian history. For most of the class, I had to play catch up, learning the basics of film and media studies along with a timeline of modern Russian history. It was a lot. BUT…it was amazing. I thought of this class when reading the “Feature Films?” article because of its suggestion to teach students film concepts and vocabulary so that they can become more thoughtful observers and commentators on films. I am so in love with this suggestion. We so often show films in classrooms, but never teach our students how to comment on these films, or what to look for. Discussions on films would be so much more beneficial if students had a background that they could use to approach the films.

Two years later, I took a course on Historiography at the same undergraduate institution. We had an entire week on film in this course and I took a lot from it. In particular, I loved the notion that film presents a narrative, just as historians present narratives of history in their articles and books. For this reason, I believe that films should definitely be used in someway in the classroom. But films need to be actively used in the classroom, rather than just shown.

Though I am not yet an educator, I would love to use films in any future class I might take. I would want to use them actively, so that students could really understand all that films can show us and tell us about history.

Project Update

In terms of the audience for this project, I think the project will be targeted towards students. The goal of the project is to better understand how communist regimes helped shape current understandings of the past. The group that would be most interested in learning about this history would probably be students or anyone that is interested in communist regimes, and how Eastern European countries have dealt with collective trauma. This is a broad idea of an audience, but it is such a specific topic that it needs to be aimed at a broader audience (for now, at least.)

Project Update

I’ve been thinking about this project for a weeks now. After doing some research and attempting to find sources for this project, I’ve realized that I might need to narrow this project a bit.

While I still want to focus on the narrative of the Holocaust/Jewish life in Poland post-World-War-II and how the incoming communist government altered that narrative, I might have trouble finding the wide range of primary sources for this type of project (particularly since I lack access to many of them). With that being said, I have decided to focus on monuments and memorials and how they show the communist government’s implied and forced narrative of the Holocaust and of Jewish life in Poland.

I feel as though a digital project is probably the best way to discuss this topic, since most of my sources will be images of monuments and memorials. I think the digital environment can showcase these memorials and monuments in a way that a paper cannot. I hope to create a site that can portray these important sites in a unique way, that encourages thoughts on historical narrative and collective memory. Also, I want the site to be as interactive as possible, so that viewers can nearly “get their hands on” these sites.

Project Idea

My research recently is focused on how Poland remembers and understands its Jewish past.

There are two important notions about this history that are not well understood or portrayed.

First is the fact that Jews lived in Poland for nearly one-thousand years before the Holocaust. This is often forgotten. History work, stories about the Holocaust, tend to not mention that Jews were Poles. Jewish history was Polish history in this sense. But because of the Holocaust and World War II and the destruction they caused, it is difficult for us to remember those one-thousand years.

Second is what happened immediately after World War II. A communist regime came into Poland and within three years took over the government. This regime pushed a new historical narrative about the war, one that featured the Polish citizens as the true victims of Nazi Germany. The Jews, and the Holocaust, ended up hidden in this narrative. When Jan Gross published Neighbors in 2000 and even with more recent publications that expose Polish actions against Jews during the war, the Polish public and government nearly rioted. In order to understand their reactions to these publications, we must understand the role communism played in this historical narrative. Often, I feel that Americans lack an understanding of communism because of the effects of the Cold War. Eastern Europe has been hidden from American focus because of their communist roots. Students rarely learn about Eastern Europe or communism, though information on World War II and the Holocaust is widely available. It is time to change this.

For my project, I would love to make a project that could help elucidate this period post-World War II. As of right now, I’m not sure how to do this. In the past, my research has used material culture to understand this history and I’d love for this project to use material culture as well. But I also want to go beyond material culture to use other sources for knowledge on the communist narrative of the Holocaust.