Impact in Profile: Tomasz Lysak

Impact in Profile: Tomasz Lysak

Each week, we will profile a scholar who will present his or her research at the Center for Advanced Genocide Research's upcoming conference Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies, Oct. 23-24, 2017.

You don’t necessarily think of something so new-age as vlogging – video blogging – when you think of the world’s histories of genocides and the Holocaust. Maybe you think of beauty bloggers on YouTube, or of fitness gurus on Instagram. Maybe you think of neither because the term is novel and foreign to you, the latest in Oxford English Dictionary’s series of additions that future linguists will pore over indefinitely.

But if you’re Dr. Tomasz Lysak, of the University of Warsaw, the phenomenon of popular fitness model/athlete Heidi Sommers vlogging her visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum last summer and the public response to it is an amazing case study in a number of trends of in digital world, namely that of the participant becoming the popular historian and making the history of the Holocaust accessible to those interested in the present-day, who may not have the family ties or educational background with which to relate to the event.

Lysak, a member of the faculty of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warsaw, will present his research in October at USC Shoah Foundation’s 2017 International Conference “Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies,” co-sponsored by the USC Mellon Digital Humanities Program. The two-day conference, which will be held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, invited scholars from across the globe to converge and discuss the relationship between digital methodologies, practices, ethics and the nature of contemporary Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

“I think the conference fits my recent research profile, which focuses on new media as a medium and forum for novel – and not-so-novel – representations of the Holocaust and its commemoration,” Lysak said.

Lysak’s recent research with a team sponsored by the National Programme for the Development of the Humanities in Poland has centered on studying the Holocaust in popular and digital culture. What he’ll be presenting is part of larger work-in-progress that will see publication as a book, adding to the researcher’s vast array of published works, like Od Kroniki do filmu posttraumatycznego: filmy dokumentalne o Zagladzie (From Newsreel to Posttraumatic Film: Documentary Films about the Holocaust) from 2016; Antologia studio nad trauma (Anthology of Trauma Studies) from 2015; “On the Impossibility of Believing in the Documentary: Dariusz Jablonski’s Photographer;” and many others.

In his presentation, Lysak will use Somers’ vlog to “as an example of an autobiographical documentary and an opportunity to study tourist/Internet-user behavior at the Museum,” Lysak said. “My presentation takes up important questions of intermediality, and the ethics of representation and expression that are at the heart of the field.”

The conference will feature over a dozen scholars presenting on a variety of subjects, from Lysak’s analysis of the netnography of digital autobiographical documentary to the capacities of geographic information systems for analyzing Holocaust spaces to the usefulness of augmented reality technologies in sharing the memories of the places of genocides.

In an initial call for papers, USC Shoah Foundation asked academics to investigate the ways in which digital tools and methods, new media and information technologies can help us to challenge conventional wisdom regarding the Holocaust and Genocide Studies by raising new questions, improving our understandings, deepening our analyses, widening our fields of view and pioneering new approaches.

For Lysak’s research, he took inspiration from representations of the Holocaust in a variety of media: “Film, photography, art, comic books…I came to this field having been trained in literary studies and cultural studies,” Lysak said. “The first essay I published in English in 2003 is devoted to Art Spiegelman’s comic book Maus. The two other sources of theoretical inspiration that I draw from are psychoanalysis and autobiography.”

His topic for publication mirrors the thing USC Shoah Foundation made its name from – the Institute’s Visual History Archive, a collection of 55,000 digitized and fully searchable video testimonies from survivors and other eyewitness of the holocaust, the Rwandan, Guatemalan and Armenian genocides and the Nanjing Massacre in China. Both entities – Lysak’s research team and the Institute – value self-documentation, either as imperative to recording the important aspects of everyday life to prove one’s engagement and participation, or as a tool of preservation and education.

Though Lysak has so far engaged minimally with USC Shoah Foundation, he has used videos from the Archive in past research and his considered extensively the merits of something like the Archive.

“I see the value of the Institute primarily in bringing the collection of testimonies, access to them and data-mining to a new level,” Lysak said. “Since I’m trained in text-image analysis, I can see the shortcoming of the recorded interviews but nevertheless incorporate them into my research. A chapter in my recent book on documentary film is devoted to the analysis of the use and abuse of testimony by documentary filmmakers.”

At the conference, Lysak looks forward to engaging with USC Shoah Foundation’s New Dimensions in Testimony project, an emergent platform that allows those interested to interact with the projected image of a real Holocaust survivor, which will respond to questions in real time.

The symposium will begin October 23 in Los Angeles. For more information, look here.