Institute News

The Center awards third Interdisciplinary Research Week opportunity to international team

Each year, the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research hosts an interdisciplinary team of scholars from different universities and different countries for one week so that they can develop and discuss a collaborative innovative research project in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies using the video testimonies of the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive (VHA) and other related resources at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

The Center’s third Interdisciplinary Research Week opportunity has been awarded to a team of six scholars from universities in Germany, France, and England. The team’s academic expertise includes Cultural Studies, Comparative Literature, History, Anthropology, and Ethnology.

The scholars are:

Elisabeth Anstett (CNRS, France, Social Anthropology)
Jean-Marc Dreyfus (University of Manchester, UK, History)
Michaela Haibl (Augsburg and Dortmund, Germany, Cultural Anthropology)
Anouche Kunth (CNRS, France, History)
Anne-Berenike Rothstein (University of Konstanz, Germany, Literature)
Seán Williams (University of Sheffield, UK, History)

The 2019-2020 Interdisciplinary Research Week team will be in residence at the Center in September of 2020. The team will spend a week at the Center to develop their interdisciplinary project on the significance of bodily markings and [in]voluntary bodily alterations for the construction and deconstruction of identity in mass violence and post-mass violence periods. To shape their proposal and begin their inquiry, the team has mostly centered their attention on tattoos, but that focus will likely expand when they encounter the multitude of bodily markings and modifications described across the collections in the VHA. The project’s tentative title is Tattoos as Memorable Palimpsest – Identification Levels and Potentials in War- and Post-War Periods.

Professor Anne-Berenike Rothstein (University of Konstanz, Germany) gathered the group following her visit to the Center as a Visiting Scholar in 2018, during which she had an opportunity to explore the Visual History Archive and realize its potential for this topic. The team’s aim is to contextualize and categorize the phenomenon of tattooing during genocide, with a special emphasis on temporality. In doing so, they plan to approach tattooing from a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, including the role of tattooing as a performative and identity-giving cultural practice, as a mediator between “inside” and “outside,” and as a memory and a commemorative practice. They will pay special attention to the meanings and perceptions of these bodily markings by genocide survivors and their descendants. 

Each member of the group will analyze tattooing from at least one of the above-mentioned angles, and all but one will deal with the Holocaust. Elisabeth Anstett will focus on Gulag tattoos and their legacy in the aftermath of forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union. Jean-Marc Dreyfus hopes to discover survivor stories about how tattoo numbers of genocide victims assisted with successfully identifying bodily remains in the post-war period. Michaela Haibl is interested in how survivors deal with their tattoos after genocide. Similarly, Anne-Berenike Rothstein wants to examine the embracing of tattoo numbers by the second and third generation Holocaust survivors as a form of reflexive identity. Seán Williams plans to extend his work on forceful hair removal in camps to include other practices of involuntary body alteration, such as tattooing and tooth-removal. Finally, Anouche Kunth will examine tattooing of Armenian women and children expelled from Turkey in the 1920s, who were abducted by the Bedouin tribes. 

During their residency, the team will give a public lecture about the progress of their initial discussions and research. Following their residence at the Center, the 2019-2020 Interdisciplinary Research Week team plans to start working on a joint publication. They hope that this work will form a basis for their future research on the topic, and enable them to formulate their joint research proposals to other granting institutions to further develop their ideas.