Digital Infrastructure – Human Network

by Conny Kristel, Daan de Leeuw, Petra Drenth

17 Jan Digital Infrastructure – Human Network

The Yerusha blog has launched a series of guest posts on projects whose mission is similar to ours: to unite, through digital means, scattered pieces of cultural heritage. Our first post was on the Footprints project. This current piece presents the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure.

Scholars investigating Holocaust topics must be prepared to travel. Many historical records exist, but it is unlikely that a single archive or collection will hold the answers to all their research questions. In many cases, the documents relating to a given site, event, organisation or individual will be scattered throughout Europe and the world.

Digitisation provides new opportunities to overcome some of the logistical problems, and many Holocaust related archival institutions have started to digitise their collections. Nonetheless, handling, referencing and sharing the material remains a challenge, and a complete digitisation of all Holocaust documents will not be achieved in the foreseeable future.

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) project seeks to overcome these problems. EHRI has made it its mission to support the international Holocaust research community by building a digital infrastructure and facilitating human networks. New technology and new insights in research have enabled EHRI to provide access to dispersed Holocaust related archival material held at hundreds of institutions across Europe and beyond. Apart from providing an online platform, EHRI also facilitates an extensive network of researchers, archivists and others to increase cohesion and co-ordination among practitioners and to initiate new transnational and collaborative approaches to the study of the Holocaust.

More than twenty organisations– research institutions, libraries, archives, museums and memorial sites – form a core working group, but EHRI equally relies on the support of many other individuals, organisations and initiatives in the broad fields of Holocaust studies and digital humanities.

EHRI started its work in October 2010 with financial support from the European Union for four years. Thanks to continued EU support, EHRI is currently in its second phase (2015-2019).

Bucharest seminar 1

Participants at the EHRI seminar ‘Study of the Holocaust in Romania: Current State and Trends’ held at EHRI partner Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, 19-23 September 2016.

Connecting sources

The EHRI Portal is one of the key outcomes of the EHRI project. It provides online access to information about dispersed sources relating to the Holocaust. The Portal contains information about almost 2,000 institutions that hold Holocaust-related archival materials, and provides access to more than 200,000 archival descriptions relating to documents in more than 450 such institutions. The portal thus allows researchers to identify dispersed Holocaust related archival material on similar topics held at a variety of collection holding institutions. EHRI has worked hard to identify Holocaust related archival material across Europe and beyond, particularly in countries in Eastern and South Eastern Europe, and has integrated descriptions of identified materials into its portal. Besides, the EHRI Portal offers country reports that contain concise information about the history of the Holocaust and the archival situation in 57 countries that have, in one way or the other, been involved in the Holocaust and its aftermath.

For example, searching for information about Jewish communities in the EHRI portal will get you results that range from the Jewish Community in Helsinki, as recorded in the Finnish Jewish archives, to the Thessaloniki Jewish Community Records, which are held at the American College of Thessaloniki in Greece.

EHRI also develops digitals methods and tools for Holocaust research using EHRI sources. The records of the ‘Jewish Council of Amsterdam’ are used for example to develop a network analysis based on a name recognition tool. Such a network analysis could provide an answer to the question whether certain networks were more beneficial than others for Jewish survival.

The records of the Jewish Council of Amsterdam are also part of the Jewish Council Archives in Europe digitisation project,in which the archives of seven Jewish Councils throughout Europe are digitised.This project is carried out in close cooperation with EHRI and is complementary to the latter’s work. Conservation and digitisation are not in EHRI’s remit, yet provide a deeper layer to the accessibility of these collections. The new or improved archival descriptions together with the digitised originals (approximately 120,000 pages) will be made available through local systems but also through portals like EHRI and Yerusha.

Digitisation of historical records makes it possible to present these records in innovative ways to the public. As digitised Holocaust related documents become more and more available, the possibility of misreading or dislocation from their – often very complex – archival contexts also increases. The EHRI Document Blog is a space to share knowledge about Holocaust related archival documents, and their presentation and interpretation, using digital tools. EHRI partners and fellows, amongst others, will present documents and explain their historical content and context using a variety of digital visualisation techniques.

Connecting people

EHRI not only connects sources but also people. We offer individuals opportunities to join our human network through an extensive programme of research, training and education events, including workshops, conferences, fellowships, seminars, workshops and online courses.

For Holocaust researchers as well the general public we provide several resources:

–       EHRI Online Portal with access to Holocaust sources

–       EHRI Online Course in Holocaust Studies

–       EHRI Research Guides on Terezín and Jewish Councils and Communities

For more information, please visit the EHRI website, and subscribe to the EHRI Newsletter. You can also follow us on Twitter @EHRIproject.

Conny Kristel – Project Director
Daan de Leeuw – Project Manager
Petra Drenth – Communication and Dissemination Officer