On March 15, Mélanie Péron from the French department at the University of Pennsylvania delivered a lecture on the research she conducted during her fellowship at the Center. Approximately 50 people, including many students and faculty, came to listen to Professor Péron’s presentation about her experience integrating testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive into her course thanks to the fellowship. Honored guests included Lori Rutman Fife, who supported the Rutman Fellowship for Research and Teaching, her husband, Mark Fife, and the Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication Michael Delli Carpini.
In her lecture, entitled "Étoilement: The Starring Effect", Professor Péron began by defining “étoilement” as the technique of a painter who uses cloth and knots, producing star shaped voids in the colored cloth/canvas. In her own research, she explained, this is symbolic of the voids left by three young Jewish women from Paris: Helene Berr, Dora Bruder and Louise Jacobson, who were deported and perished. Professor Peron teaches about these women using the diary of Helene Berr, letters from Louise Jacobson, and a novel about Dora Bruder. In her course supported by the fellowship, she wanted to connect testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive to these sources, and what she and her students discovered was astonishing. It turns out that these women’s lives were connected. When she and her students searched the Visual History Archive for interviews with Jewish survivors who were of similar age as these women or from similar areas in Paris, suddenly they discovered unexpected family and friendship relationships of survivors with some of the three women and between them.
Using their findings, Professor Péron is currently working together with students on a digital multi-layered map of Paris during the German occupation. The map is based on the data collected from the testimonies housed at the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, as well as other data from diaries or novels. One student became Professor Péron’s research assistant on this project -- Kyra Schulman, whose grandmother was from Paris too. Kyra participated in Professor Péron’s lecture, presenting alongside her professor. During the Q&A following the lecture, students from Professor Péron’s class expressed how this class left a remarkable impact on them. As one of them said, it changed their lives.
Summary by Wolf Gruner