Experiencing History: Holocaust Sources in Context is a digital teaching and learning tool designed to engage instructors and students in the study of primary sources related to the Holocaust. Selected for use in the college and university classroom, the original materials featured in Experiencing History—diaries, letters, testimonies, art, still and moving images, and other media—have been carefully curated and contextualized by scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. The tool is divided into thematic sections, each featuring collections of about 15 annotated primary sources produced by various individuals and organizations. Collections are organized by source genre or a theme, and are accompanied by introductory text offering historical background on the documents and describing some of the interpretive challenges that they pose for students and scholars. Individual sources, collections, and sections are integrated in a seamless digital environment that allows instructors to create customized courses and learning experiences that match their educational goals.
Experiencing History is a digital teaching and learning tool designed to engage instructors and students in the study of primary sources related to the Holocaust.
Experiencing History builds on scholarship pioneered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Through its book series, Documenting Life and Destruction: Holocaust Sources in Context, the Museum’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies has published over one thousand primary sources from the Holocaust, including five volumes focused on Jewish responses to the Nazi genocide. In 2016, as a digital component of its Jewish Responses to Persecution publications, the Museum launched Experiencing History's first section, Jewish Perspectives on the Holocaust.
As the founding set of sources in this digital teaching and learning tool, Jewish Perspectives on the Holocaust highlights the frequently ignored or marginalized perspectives of Holocaust victims. The items presented in its collections work to balance a traditional preference for perpetrator sources in scholarship on the Holocaust with a wide range of largely unexamined Jewish documents. These sources recover and reveal the breadth of Jewish reflections on, and responses to the unfolding catastrophe. Amidst great uncertainty, Jews confronted escalating persecution, attempted to make sense of conflicting laws and regulations, and gauged their prospects in the face of rapidly changing circumstances. Critically, many wrote about their experiences or documented them in non-literary forms: whether in diaries, letters, newspaper articles, reports, or other compositions—as well as in visual and musical art—Jews dealt with the Holocaust as a daily reality. These sources suggest opportunities for inquiry often ignored in scholarship that foregrounds perpetrators’ perspectives.
Individual sources, collections, and sections are integrated in a seamless digital environment that allows students and their instructors to customize learning experiences.
Updated regularly with new sections and collections, Experiencing History will expand to outline other key themes that color our understanding of this complex history. Featured materials are chosen with an eye to their educational value, reflecting an incredible diversity of cultural, linguistic, geographical, political, and historical contexts, while addressing the need to represent “typical” experiences of the Holocaust. It remains impossible to include all—or even most—materials adequate to a comprehensive study of the Holocaust. This tool offers a small, sample selection designed to serve a variety of educational goals, while inviting teachers and learners to explore a vast landscape, both physical and digital, from which many other rich sources emerge.
Introductions to each document provide historical context and some information about the fate of the author(s); they also frequently raise questions about the document’s production or history. These short, annotated texts point students to further readings, as well as to other trusted websites that detail concepts, historical developments, and ideas relevant to each document’s context and creation. These accompanying descriptions provide signposts for classroom discussion, but limit explanation and interpretation. Because instructors and students will approach these sources with various goals, analytical perspectives, and disciplinary concerns, Experiencing History avoids positing prescriptive questions or explicit frameworks for study. The result is a teaching and learning tool appropriate for diverse disciplines and myriad avenues of examination.