Impact in Profile: Julia Werner

Impact in Profile: Julia Werner

The second annual Greenberg Research Fellowship has been awarded to Julia Werner, a PhD candidate in history at Humboldt University, Berlin, who will combine testimony with her study of photography of occupied Poland during World War II.

The Margee and Douglas Greenberg Research Fellowship is for advanced standing Ph.D. candidates. The fellowship provides $4,000 support for dissertation research focused on testimony from the Visual History Archive. The incumbent will spend up to one month in residence at the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Her PhD dissertation is part of the research project “Photography during National Socialism”, under the guidance of Prof. Michael Wildt at Humboldt University, Berlin, and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Werner is exploring the everyday photography of occupied Poland as a valuable source for the history of the occupation while at the same time looking at photography as an act of intervention, especially in acts of violence, everyday life and the processes of population policy. Working primarily with photographs, she has started to incorporate interviews from the Visual History Archive into her research.

Werner said she was “amazed and excited” by the great number and variety of the testimonies, and how user-friendly the Visual History Archive is to work with. For example, she was researching ghettoization in occupied Poland for one chapter of her dissertation and found it extremely useful to be able to jump to specific points in relevant testimonies to find the information she was looking for.

However, she said she hasn’t had the chance to watch entire testimonies from start to finish.

“Therefore, I plan on using my time in Los Angeles to listen to some interviews in full length in order to be able to connect them to the main theme/source of my dissertation, photography, and explore the relationship between these two fascinating and complex sources,” Werner said.

Werner said the combination of photography and testimony raises interesting questions for her research about the visibility and invisibility of people who were forced into ghettos. From the brief amount of time she’s already spent watching testimony, she has begun to construct a more detailed historical narrative, she said.

“The interviews manage to convey a much more complex perspective on the very heterogeneous group of people that the photographs tend to homogenize for the viewer,“ Werner said. “The interviews bring out the very different starting conditions as well as the unique and diverse voices of the survivors and have helped me present a more detailed historical narrative.“

The next step in her research is to explore a more systematic use of the combination of photography and oral history interviews as a historical source, focusing on the ways in which interviews can enhance the reading of photographic sources. She will focus on questions including: “Do they enable us to see more? Do they help make certain aspects visible that would otherwise remain invisible? In which ways can photography shed light on oral histories? And the other way around: how can photographic sources enhance our understanding of the interviews? How can approaches to interpreting photographs be meaningfully replicated for the interpretation of oral sources?“

Werner is looking forward to being immersed in the interdisciplinary environment of USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research – attending lectures, meeting other scholars from the field, and doing research in USC Doheny Memorial Library’s Holocaust & Genocide Studies Collection. She also wants to begin thinking about ways in which testimony can be used in museums and memorials, drawing on her experience developing a teacher guidebook and working as a museum guide.

The Greenberg Research Fellowship will provide Werner the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of testimony and take the time to experience what it has to offer.

“Having worked with photography as my main source for quite some time now, I was struck by the emotional impact that listening to the interviews had on me, a person telling his or her story, seeing the facial expressions, the gestures, but also hearing the voice when it changes, when the interviewees stumble over words and sentences, when they switch languages, when they turn silent,” Werner said. “The Greenberg Research Fellowship is a great opportunity to deepen this methodological approach and to further elaborate on the question of combining these two complex resources as well as to add oral history interviews to my toolbox.“