Yad Vashem – Insights on The Source[:en]
I was honoured last week to be invited, with our client Roderick Miller of Tracing the Past to Jerusalem where Yad Vashem hosted in cooperation with EVZ The Source. Holocaust Sources: Truth, Interpretation and(Mis)Use in the Digital Era. I sat in a room for three days with some of the world’s top archivists and historians to discuss “going digital” and what it means for their profession; protecting the purity of the source in a world where data is fluid and deception is often invisible. To say the least, it was an eye-opening experience. Giving my brain over to those three days of intense discussion on an entirely new set of challenges made something funny happen: I left with a single word in my head that was never said during the entire workshop.
Yes, telephone. The game we played as children, passing a phrase from one ear to the next, laughing when it comes back distorted or completely changed.
That’s what historians do with the past. They find objects, documents, mysteries that can’t speak for themselves, and try to discover the root truth, the source as it was intended. By touching the mystery, they add their interpretation of facts, and pass the information, distorted or purified, to the next ear.
There’s no way to understand history implicitly. As soon as the present passes, it’s locked in memory and documentation. Every telling will be an interpretation, no matter how close to the source it is. The duty of the historian is to present their evidence as accurately and objectively as possible. It’s the news, from a distance in time. The importance of a factual description is multiplied by the minute, as the truth slips deeper into the infinite abyss of the past.
The holocaust is one of many shameful moments in the course of human history. It’s telling will never be finished. It’s stories will be told and retold, remembered and forgotten, twisted and used to further agendas, to pass on a false narrative or to honour the innocents lost.
Everything is a retelling. Keeping the signal of past events clear is a responsibility we all have, in an era where all information is accessible, lies as easily as the truth. We owe it to future generations to pass on the truth as it is. Brutal, beautiful and more important now than ever before.
I hope my knowledge helped clarify the role of digitisation and the importance of dissemination of archival data. Our greatest strength as humans is our ability to share and learn. I believe that open information is the future, despite the potential for misuse that comes with going digital. Truth always surfaces.
Thanks for reading.
Benjamin Posch, Creative at LUX medialab & design[:]