The Testimony of the Multitude: Computational Analysis of the USC Shoah Foundation Archive
In recent decades, enormous efforts have been made to gather the testimonies of the last living Holocaust survivors. The challenge we face today is attending to all those thousands of human stories, which despite being safely stored in archives, may nevertheless disappear into oblivion. The challenge is at once ethical and technological: how to listen to thousands of testimonies as an integral body of voices and stories rather than a collection of fragmentary items in a database. Whereas existing computational methods tend to break down texts into their basic components (usually words), a team of researchers at the Hebrew University aims to develop a different approach, one that maintains the narrative integrity of testimonies while still taking full advantage of the affordances of advanced computational techniques.
In this talk, Renana Keydar and Eitan Wagner will examine the meeting point between testimony and computation, the new possibilities inherent in such an encounter and the challenges and risks involved. They will introduce the new avenues for listening to the multitude of testimonies in the archives afforded by the development of advanced computational tools. The talk will present a computational model of "distant listening," which is motivated by the moral commitment to the integrity of each testimony while simultaneously approaching the multiplicity of testimonies as such.
Renana Keydar, PhD
Renana Keydar is an assistant professor of law and digital humanities at the Hebrew University. She heads the Alfred Landecker Digital Humanities and is the founder and director of the teaching program in digital humanities at the Hebrew University. Keydar is the recipient of the prestigious Alon Fellowship for outstanding young researchers. She received an LLB in law and a BA in political science from Tel Aviv University (magna cum laude) and served as a legal advocate in the Israeli State Attorney’s Office, High Court of Justice Department. Upon receiving her doctorate in comparative literature from Stanford University, Keydar was first selected as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Minerva Center for Human Rights and then as a research fellow at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University. Today Keydar is an affiliated faculty at the Center for Interdisciplinary Data Science Research and at the Federmann Cyber Security Research Center, and is a visiting researcher at the Poetic Media Lab at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis. Dr. Keydar is one of the Principal Investigators on the project "Listening to All the Stories: Developing a Sequential Narrative Analysis Algorithm for Holocaust Testimonies” that utilizes USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.
Eitan Wagner is a PhD student in the field of Natural Language Processing (NLP) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Eitan's main interest is narrative analysis and understanding, focusing on Holocaust survivor testimonies. His work attempts to track topics, locations, and times within narratives. Another interest is the probabilistic properties of contemporary neural models, assessing their applicability within modular frameworks. Eitan also completed extensive Jewish law studies (Dayanut) and volunteers in the Eretz Hemdah - Gazit rabbinical court. He is associated with the project "Listening to All the Stories: Developing a Sequential Narrative Analysis Algorithm for Holocaust Testimonies” at the Hebrew University that utilizes USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.