Universities gain access to genocide survivor testimonies

Universities have been given access to more than 55,000 interviews with survivors of and witnesses to genocide via streaming video, providing researchers with an evocative, deeply personal view of the impact of the Holocaust and other genocides and massacres, including Rwanda, Armenia and Nanjing.

The testimonies were collected by USC Shoah Foundation, an institute dedicated to using the voices of those who witnessed some of history’s darkest times as a tool to teach about empathy, understanding and respect.

They reside in the foundation’s Visual History Archive, a fully searchable portal of testimonies that detail first-hand experiences with genocide. It is distributed to academic libraries by ProQuest. Forty Hungarian academic and public libraries who are members of Hungary’s Electronic Information Service National Programme (EISZ) can now make this content available to their users.

EISZ is an electronic information system, hosted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which contains different types of databases, from full text periodicals to factual information databases. Members of EISZ include 51 higher education institutions but also other organisations from the government and non-profit sector.

“The Visual History Archive includes rich content about local history in Hungary – including more than 1,300 Hungarian interviews that enable students and researchers to gain further insight into and understand their history,” said Professor István Monok, general director of the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Science and president of the EISZ Programme Board.

“Having access to these primary sources will ensure that these stories will never be forgotten.”

The largest digital collection of its kind, the Visual History Archive encompasses 115,000 hours of interviews, conducted in 65 countries and 43 languages. Each interview is indexed in one-minute segments, resulting in 65,000 searchable terms.

More than 1,800 transcripts of Holocaust-related interviews enable granular searching – part of an ongoing project to transcribe all interviews.

The archive is designed to empower researcher and student learning and includes tools for studying and sharing testimonies. For example, users can bookmark clips, save projects and embed testimonies in LMS course packs via durable URLs.

“The Visual History Archive is an incredible tool for students and researchers,” said USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith. “Access for researchers and students is sure to spark further discovery on the social and cultural dynamics that lead to genocide, and ultimately provide vital clues on how best to intervene in that deadly cycle.”

USC Shoah Foundation and ProQuest – a company that curates content “that matters to the advancement of knowledge" and claims to have an archive of billions of vetted, indexed documents – launched an exclusive partnership in 2016 to “expand, enrich and simplify access to the Visual History Archive in the academic market”, they said in a press statement.

They say this opens up access to the library’s related ProQuest® content, which can encompass six centuries of content spanning dissertations, news and historical newspapers, periodicals, scholarly journals and primary source materials – a combination that “improves contextual discovery while viewing the video testimonies”.

The Visual History Archive was established to preserve history “as told by the people who lived it, and lived through it”. These testimonies form the backbone of the USC Shoah Foundation’s work in education, film-making, research and community outreach, efforts that connect testimony to a wide audience.

Housed at the University of Southern California, within the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the foundation works with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies for educational purposes.