Compiling 55,000-plus video testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides was a feat of archival collection that remains unmatched.
But this accomplishment gave rise to a new challenge: How can this immense resource be used if the information it contains isn’t searchable?
Anticipating this challenge in the early years, USC Shoah Foundation assembled a team of historians, technology professionals, software engineers, and information-management experts to develop the Institute's indexing system. The work was painstaking, and by 2001 only about 4,000 testimonies had been fully indexed. By 2005, the number had swelled to 46,000. Today, the entire trove of testimony in the Visual History Archive – which would take 12 years of 24-hour viewing to watch from beginning to end – has a built-in search engine that enables users to pinpoint moments of interest to the minute.
Developing such a robust search mechanism required innovation, and USC Shoah Foundation currently holds 11 patents on digital collection management technologies.
At the core of the Institute’s indexing system is a controlled vocabulary, a thesaurus of 66,237 index terms. These index terms include geographical locations and time periods (e.g. “Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia,” “Germany 1941”), as well as location names (e.g. “Auschwitz [Poland: Concentration Camp]”) and experiences (e.g. “identity concealment,” “psychological distress prevention”). The names of the 1.966 million individuals mentioned in each testimony are also indexed and searchable.
For each testimony, a brief biographical profile has been created drawing primarily from a Pre-Interview Questionnaire. This questionnaire records information about the interviewee’s birthplace, family members, religious affiliation, ghetto and concentration camp experiences, and resistance activities among other things. This data has been catalogued and is searchable in the Biographical Search in the Archive and is displayed in the Biographical Profiles in the Archive’s search results. For further information about this biographical profile indexing methodology, please see USC Shoah Foundation’s Cataloging Guidelines on the right.
Each video testimony has been indexed by assigning indexing terms to the relevant one-minute segments of each testimony.
This permits users to perform detailed searches—on names, places, time periods, and a huge array of subjects and experiences—both to locate certain testimonies and to find specific moments within testimonies.
For further information about this indexing methodology, please see the Institute’s Indexing Guidelines on the right.
The entire archive is now searchable in the Visual History Archive, which is available at 181 universities and institutions in the United States and abroad via a separate, high-capacity network called Internet2 – or its variants in other countries. To find an institution with access to the entire Visual History Archive, please click here or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. The online version of the Visual History Archive contains 4,000 viewable and searchable testimonies and can be found at vhaonline.usc.edu.