Anne Knowles believes that places provide important information about historical events. The University of Maine professor and graduate coordinator in the history department has pursued an academic career studying the relationship between geography and major societal changes, examining issues ranging from Welsh emigration to the United States to the reasons why American entrepreneurs struggled to keep up with the productivity of the British iron industry. Now, Knowles is working with a team of historians and geographers to create a digital platform for students and educators to trace the geographies of the Holocaust and connect the victims’ stories to the places where they happened.
The project was recently awarded $150,000 Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).that supports innovative, experimental, or computationally demanding digital projects that can be scaled to enhance scholarly research, teaching, and public programming in the humanities.
“I have been fortunate to receive a number of NEH grants for my Holocaust research. This will allow me to share the results of years of work with a global audience. Mapping history with GIS is now mainstream in the digital humanities. It’s exciting that the University of Maine can contribute to this important trend,” says Knowles.
While Nazi actions were often recorded and can be mapped using geographic coordinates, the locations of Holocaust victim experiences are difficult to map because their locations are vague or unknown and can only be relatively localized.
Knowles is working with collaborators, including Paul Jaskot, professor of fine arts, art history and visual studies at Duke University, to create a website that shares 14 years of data and combines GIS analysis with corpus and computational linguistics to reveal the geographic Investigate connections between 1,111 SS camps, 1,142 Jewish ghettos and approximately 4,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors.
Although there are now many websites about the Holocaust, none have provided detailed data on camps and ghettos for users to search, as Knowles’ project will do.
“Our project aims to teach spatial thinking while giving students and scientists the opportunity to conduct geographical research. By linking personal accounts to specific places, camps and ghettos gain meaning and emotion,” says Knowles.
Knowles is co-founder of Holocaust Geographies Collaborative. In 2014, this interdisciplinary group produced the first book showing how geographic methods can illuminate the sites and spaces of the Holocaust. However, this website will host the most comprehensive data and maps of SS-administered camps and ghettos in German-occupied Eastern Europe, linking perpetrator actions to witness testimonies, providing educational assistance, and supporting online mapping functions.
The site will allow users to toggle between close reading of personal accounts of the impact of habitat changes from interview transcripts and more distant regional and continental patterns of those changes as implemented by the Nazis and their collaborators. The goal of the site is to encourage users to think about the Holocaust in new ways by exploring the shocking number, ubiquity, and diversity of SS camps across the Reich beyond the well-known Auschwitz, and the ghettoization of occupied Eastern Europe beyond large urban areas highlights like Warsaw and Lodz.
All data on the website will be publicly available and downloadable. The site will also contain materials suggesting ways to use the site in classroom assignments and research.
“After years of writing and speaking publicly about the profound geographies of the Holocaust, I want to share the spatial insights I have gained with the digital generation. Maps are a great tool for visual learning. We also want the site to improve geographic literacy. Americans can better understand current events in Europe — like the current war in Ukraine — by learning about past fighting in the region,” Knowles said.
Knowles says her Holocaust research at UMaine involved more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students. This project will increase student participation by employing two Ph.D. students and enabled Knowles to hire several new student team members.
The final product will be delivered on a public website hosted by the University of Maine. It is also promoted on the websites of partner institutions such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, Facing History, and Northwestern University’s Holocaust Education Foundation.
Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]