Each year, the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research hosts a team of scholars from different universities, different countries, and different academic disciplines for one week so that they can develop and discuss a collaborative, innovative, and interdisciplinary 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.
In the Fall of 2019, the Center awarded the third Interdisciplinary Research Week opportunity to a team of scholars from universities in Germany, France, and England. The team’s academic expertise includes Cultural Studies, Comparative Literature, History, Anthropology, and Ethnology. The visit of this Interdisciplinary Research Week team was delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scholars will be in residence at the Center in September of 2022.
The scholars are:
Elisabeth Anstett (CNRS, France, Social Anthropology)
Jean-Marc Dreyfus (University of Manchester, UK, History and Holocaust Studies)
Michaela Haibl (University of Dortmund, Germany, Cultural Anthropology)
Anne-Berenike Rothstein (University of Konstanz, Germany, Romance Literature and Comparative & General Literature)
Seán Williams (University of Sheffield, UK, German and European Cultural History)
The team will spend a week at the Center to develop their interdisciplinary project on the significance of [in]voluntary bodily alterations and bodily markings, such as tattoos, for the construction and deconstruction of identity in mass violence and post-mass violence periods. At the inception of the project, the focus was on tattoos, but as the group grew, the focus expanded to include clothing, hair, and the body. The focus may expand yet again when the team encounters the multitude of bodily modifications and markings described across the collections in the VHA.
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 body modifications, involuntary and voluntary, during genocide, with a special emphasis on temporality. In doing so, they plan to approach the topic from a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, including the role of body modifications and alterations 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 alterations and markings by genocide survivors and their descendants.
In the original conception of the group's work together, each member planned to explore a different dimension of the topic. 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 body alterations, such as 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 tooth-removal and tattoing. The team's plans will continue to evolve when they meet together in person during the Research Week to intensively discuss, plan, and conduct research for their project.
During their residency, the team will give a public presentation to share more about the project's inception, progress, and initial thoughts and plans springing from their time together. Following their residency at the Center, the 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.