Preserving and Interpreting Knowledge of the Past and Promoting Social Justice
Faculty Name:
Robin Kirk; Andrea Peto; Peter Berczi; Robert Parnica
Institution Name:
Duke University; Central European University, Open Society Archives

This joint online collaborative interdisciplinary research seminar focuses on novel ways of thinking about “the archive.” Dealing with the issues of archives, memory, and human rights, the course’s main question concerns the reasons why some knowledge about the past is preserved and other knowledge is not. The course is organized so as to give the students a “hands-on” experience with working with the archive by introducing them to particular examples of archives, such as the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive. The course also includes the examples of archives that feature different types of archival material, including the records of human rights organizations and human rights activists, artistic works, records of political tribunal testimonies, and colonial archives. 

Students are asked to reimagine what the archive is and what role it plays within the society. In order to do so, they are assigned a set of readings that are combined with archival resources, such as, for example, the Suffragists Oral History Project, and with the screenings of excerpts from specific films, such as the Eichmann trial session 68. Some of the questions considered include:

- If memory and truth are crucial to the formation of a sustainable civil society, upholding human rights, and seeking justice, how do we mobilize archives to support them?

- How does genre matter in terms of the nature of what is recorded (or not)?

The Visual History Archive is discussed in relation to the issue of politics of digital history archives. The students are required to learn about the use of the VHA both through the assigned reading and a hands-on experience with the Archive. Central questions concerning the VHA are the following: Whose stories will be recorded and how? What is the politics of indexing? What makes an archive digital? How silencing and “un-silencing” of memory happens in an interview context?

Students were encouraged to pursue their own archive-related research projects in the seminar, and to connect them to the readings and other sources used in the class. Exploring the link between memory, archives, and social justice, they were asked to make a statement about a social justice issue important for them.

Watch a video of the students' presentations here.