Masterclass: ‘Intimate Violence’.  Methodology and Sources for Microhistories of the Holocaust

Teacher: prof.dr. Natalia Aleksiun
Monday 13 November 2023, 16.00-18.00 pm, Drift 23, 1.04 3512 BR Utrecht. Please register before 30 October 2023

In recent years, research into the microdynamics of violence has become increasingly popular. Whereas earlier work tends to concentrate on the macrolevel of violence, i.e. the decisions and worldviews of senior officials and policy makers, there is a distinctive trend in the scholarship toward the microlevel: the study of smaller communities and towns, groups, families, and individuals, including relations between neighbors, colleagues, friends, relatives and lovers. This trend transpires particularly in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Newer studies in this field draw attention to the huge impact of (sometimes pre-existing) local and communcal networks and dynamics on the way a genocidal process unfolded in a given community or town. It also underscores the effects of genocidal policies on individuals, their relations and communities. In recent years, scholarship on the micro-dynamics of violence has become increasingly popular. Zooming in on the microlevel allows us to engage with the ‘softer tissue’ of history: with the emotions and perceptions of both victims and perpetrators as well as their memory and silence.

In spite of the clear advantages of the shift towards microhistory, there are also challenges, particularly with regards to the sources. Evidently, going beyond institutional archives  is needed for reconstructing these microhistories. It requires a turn towards diaries, private correspondence, as well as court testimonies and personal interviews which are often collected after the studied instance of mass violence. What are the specific pitfalls of working with these less conventional bodies of sources? Do they require any specific tools and skills? In this masterclass prof. dr. Natalia Aleksiun delves into her own research on the Holocaust in Poland/Ukraine to reflect upon the methodological and ethical concerns of microlevel research on mass violence.

Dr. Aleksiun is the Harry Rich Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Florida. She holds doctoral degrees from Warsaw University and New York University. She has written extensively on the history of Polish Jews and the Holocaust. In addition to her 2021 book Conscious History: Polish Jewish Historians before the Holocaust (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization), which explores the role of academic and public history for shaping the collective identity of Polish Jewry after WWI, she is the author of Where to Next? The Zionist Movement in Poland 1944–1950 (Warsaw, 2002 [in Polish]) which delved into political culture among Polish Jewish survivors after the Holocaust. She is interested in the role of survivors as pioneer Holocaust scholars, especially Philip Friedman, Artur Eisenbach, and Gershon Taffet. She edited Gershon Taffet’s Holocaust of the Jews in Zolkiew (Warsaw, 2019 [in Polish]). She has co-edited several volumes and special journal editions, including Entanglements of War: Social Networks during the Holocaust (2023), Places, Spaces and Voids in the Holocaust (2021), and Writing Jewish History in Eastern Europe (2017). She serves as editor of East European Jewish Affairs and is a member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is completing a book on Jewish life in hiding in western Ukraine during the Holocaust and a book on the so-called cadaver affair in medical colleges in East Central Europe in the interwar period.

Outline masterclass Intimate Violence
16:00-16.10     Welcome
17.10-17:00     Presentation Natalia Aleksiun
17:00-17:10     Break
17.10-17:50     Laboratory: working with sources and student discussions
18:50-18:00     Conclusions and closing

Participants need to register at before 30 October 2023. There is a limit of 20 participants; RMA-students and PhD-students of OPG have priority.

Credit (1 EC) is optional. Requirement:
Writing a paper of 3000 words on central topic of the masterclass, to be submitted 1 week after the masterclass