The Education Working Group Database: Holocaust Survivors and Their Stories

Posted by Stacey Zembrzycki

To date, Erin and I have managed to build a six hour database using the interviews that have been collected by the Education Working Group within the CURA-funded project entitled: Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide, and other Human Rights Violations. These interviews were done with Montreal Holocaust survivors who have been actively educating students about the Holocaust. For the most part, these interviews recount the prewar, wartime, and postwar experiences of these men and women and they also outline the educational endeavours of these individuals, focusing on their work through the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre and the March of the Living program. I have been working with two interviews done with Ted Bolger and Donna Bell and Erin has been working with two interviews done with Liselotte Ivry and Olga Sher.

In building this database, we have tried to keep our approach as simple as possible. We have decided to clip interviews according to a question and answer format and when doing so, we make notes and identify key terms; these key terms are then used to generate a tag cloud. These tag clouds are absolutely incredible, identifying key content- and meaning-based themes that come up in the interviews; see the previous post for a picture of this feature.

Despite the fact that we have tried to keep the clipping process simple however, some challenges have arisen. In creating clips, we have to assign titles to the clips. At the outset, we decided that there would be four titles: (a) prompt; (b) question; (c) response; and (d) story shift. A prompt includes any statement made by an interviewer that causes an interviewee to respond, even if that response if brief. A question refers to any question that is posed by the interviewer. A response refers to anything that the interviewee says in relation to the question or prompt posed by the interviewer. Lastly, a story shift refers to any digression in the interviewee’s narrative that occurs without input from the interviewer. These are great titles but in clipping my interviews I found that I had to make many short clips to adhere to this system. Since this was taking a great deal of time and I was experiencing clipping precision problems, I decided to create a new clip title: response with prompts. Instead of clipping every exchange, I decided to clip whole sections of the interview that related to each story or anecdote that was told. I believe that users should watch a whole exchange rather than a fragmented exchange. Given the Life Stories‘ oral history methodology – which strives to create an informal interview space that is rich in dialogue and reflection – I feel as though this type of title was more in-line with the spirit of the project. I am aware of the ways in which databases can fragment the life stories of interviewees and so I am trying to address this challenge by building a database that humanizes and keeps these life stories in tact.

For the most part, I am happy with the ways in which our database has turned out thus far. We are still facing challenges when it comes to converting video files into an FLV format and there continue to be a number of bugs which make Stories Matter challenging to use but we are, despite these problems, almost at a point where a public release of the software will be possible. Please stay tuned for further developments and the beta release of Stories Matter!

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