The ‘Third Workshop for Advanced PhD Candidates from North American Universities and Israel who are working on the Holocaust’ took place from June 25 to June 29, 2017 at the International Institute for Holocaust Research in Yad Vashem.
The joint workshop, co-sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research in Los Angeles and the International Institute of Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem is held every other year, alternating between Los Angeles and Jerusalem, and it brings together graduate students from the United States, Canada, and Israel who are working on Holocaust research to exchange ideas, share and discuss research results, and receive a deep introduction to and conduct research at the archive they are visiting.
The selection committees at USC and Yad Vashem chose ten PhD candidates from North America and Israel to participate in the workshop. They are all actively working on dissertations dealing with the Second World War or the Holocaust, and they represent different disciplines, including history, political science, Jewish studies, and music and literature, to name a few.
After a welcome from Eliot Nidam, who stayed with the students throughout the week to support the students and offer connections for research, the workshop opened with remarks by the workshop’s chairs Dan Michman and Wolf Gruner. Professor Michman is the Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem and the incumbent of the John Najmann Chair for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem. (He is also Emeritus Professor of Modern Jewish History at Bar-Ilan University.) Professor Gruner is the Founding Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research and the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California.
The main objective of The Third Workshop for Advanced PhD Candidates was to create a space in which students and professors from different backgrounds could discuss ongoing research into the Holocaust. Each morning, two or three of the PhD candidates would present their research. Each speaker had 20 minutes to present their project, their main arguments, and some primary results. Presentations were followed by a 40 minutes of questions and comments. Along with the ten participants and two professors chairing the workshop, a dozen other people – students, researchers, and members of Yad Vashem Institute – took part in the discussion.
During the discussion period, participants of the workshop had the first opportunity to ask questions and discuss. This process allowed every PhD candidate to ask questions and make comments on their colleagues' work. This also favored conversation and sharing of ideas between participants. Since each participant had a different background and a particular topic of research, the questions asked were varied and touched on a range of issues and approaches, such as gender studies, comparative analysis, micro-history, etcetera. These discussions allowed the participants to get a better understanding of the comprehensiveness of the field, hear different perspectives, and often gain fresh perspectives and new insights into their own research. Many participants found themselves asking new questions about their work.
Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the workshop, it was a great opportunity to discuss the future of the field of Holocaust research itself. Participants explored and discussed questions about how research on the Shoah should be conducted, from which perspective (gender studies, transnational history, micro-history, etc.), through what methods, what theme should be in the center of the reflection (resistance, everyday life, relation between Germans, Gentiles and Jews), as well as discussing more controversial issues (Americanization, deformation of the Holocaust, clashes of memories). Every participant contributed his/her own perspective to the discussion.
In addition to the presentations and discussions, the workshop participants received a deep introduction to the Yad Vashem archives during the workshop. They were encouraged to use the Yad Vashem archive center every day. This way, participants could familiarize themselves not only with center and its holdings, but also with archivists and librarians. Throughout the workshop, PhD candidates, other researchers, professors, and staff had a lively exchange on methods of research and learned how to access and use Yad Vashem’s different research resources like ITS (International Tracking Service) or the pages of testimony.
On the last day of the workshop, there was a special session about Yad Vashem Institute resources. Dinat Porat (Chief historian), Robert Rozett (Director of Yad Vashem Libraries), Zvi Bernhardt (Deputy Director of Reference and Information Service), and Sharon Kangisser-Cohen (Chair of the Eli and Diana Zborowski Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath) presented their work and its use and value for researchers. This special discussion was extremely fruitful for those who wanted a better understanding of the functioning of the Yad Vashem Institute and its different departments. It was the perfect way to end the workshop even if a few participants would have found it more useful to have this session at the beginning of the week.
In addition to the opportunity for the PhD candidates to discuss their research with more advanced researchers and professors, participants appeared most pleased with the creation of a brand-new scholarly network that enabled advanced reflections on their own research, other emerging research, and on the state of the field of Holocaust research.
Summary by Marie-Dominique Asselin
(Edited by Marika Stanford-Moore and Martha Stroud)