Tracing Visual Evidence of the Holocaust: Challenges of the Digital Curation of Liberation Footage across Archives and Disciplines (90')

Our understanding of history particularly draws on our shared visual cultural memory. Over the last decade the use of digital technologies to process, analyse, enrich and discover historical filmic records has radically transformed our perception of and dealings with non-feature film heritage materials. Historical sources that had been practically invisible to the public have become increasingly discoverable and available for re-use and for deep, personalized engagement by citizens.

This “digital turn” provokes a reinvigorated approach to questions of curatorship How do we regulate access to, and moderate re-use of sensitive and complex historical records? . What strategies and measures do we employ to ensure the integrity of these new digital collections, in alignment with our “legacy” archival practices?

Dealing with Europe's darkest heritage, the EU-funded Innovation Action Visual History of the Holocaust. Rethinking Curation in the Digital Age focuses on filmic records produced by Allied forces and relating to the discovery of Nazi concentration camps and other atrocity sites. In the course of the project, these historical films, which currently are dispersed across archival institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and other former Soviet Republics, are aggregated, digitized, analyzed and annotated. Using existing and emerging technologies, including advanced digitization, automated analysis of images and text, time-based annotation and location-based services, the project provides tools to trace these images and explore how they have been used and reused. It develops strategies to discover and unlock layers of context and meaning inaccessible through traditional linear narrative modes.

For our panel we invite archivists, curators and scholars working with liberation footage to discuss curatorial, ethical, technical, and conceptual considerations surrounding these sensitive materials. How do FIAF archives manage their holdings of atrocity footage? How can we trace the afterlife of these images through space (as dispersed cultural heritage) and time (the visual afterlife of the Holocaust in popular culture)? How does datafication change the status of film as source? How can state of the art technology help us to achieve a broader understanding of these materials and their historical significance? And which of our findings and results can provide FIAF archives with new approaches, methods and tools to digitization, curation and databasing of non-canonical film records?


Moderator: Camille Blot-Wellens, historian, researcher and independent archivist


Criss Austin, Supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington
Daniel Helm, research assistant and PhD student at the Computer Vision Lab at TU Wien (Vienna)
Kerstin Herlt, European Projects Coordinator at Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum (DFF)
Anna Högner, Research Associate at the Austrian Film Museum (OFM), Vienna
David Kleingers, Head of Filmportal and digital projects at Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum (DFF)
Matthew Lee and Elena Nepoti, Imperial War Museums (IWM), London
Michael Loebenstein, Director of the Austrian Film Museum (OFM), Vienna
Ingo Zechner, Head of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History (LBI), Vienna

Programme schedule:

Introduction (Michael Loebenstein, OFM) (5')
Presentation: Digital Humanities and the Archive: Datafication and Curation of “non feature” film documents, transhuman agents, historiographical challenges – and chances (Ingo Zechner, LBI) (15')
Presentation: Curatorial Challenges and Policies of Access to Europe’s darkest Heritage (Criss Austin, NARA; Matthew Lee, Elena Nepoti, IWM) (15')
Presentation: Using prototype tools to detect and classify cinematographic concepts and relations in digitized film collections (Daniel Helm, TUW) (8')
Presentation: Combining Sources on Nazi Atrocities: A Metadata schema to describe, relate and annotate film and non-film material (Anna Högner, OFM) (8')
Presentation: Cinematography of the Holocaust: Making the ephemeral canonical (David Kleingers, DFF) (8')
Summary of concepts and outlook – Michael Loebenstein (OFM) and Kerstin Herlt (DFF) (10')
Discussion and open floor (20')



This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 822670.