Research Seminar War Letters

Activity: Teaching/Examination/SupervisionTeaching activityAcademic

Description

In the Research Seminar, students participate in ongoing research projects of senior staff members. The topic of this seminar was the digitization and datafication of war letters, based on the NIOD project First-Hand Accounts of War: War letters (1935-1950)[1]

The NIOD, Institute of War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam holds a valuable collection of letters from the period shortly before, during and after the German occupation of the Netherlands and its then colonial empire. The project ‘Oorlog uit Eerste Hand’ (First-Hand Accounts of War) wants to open up this collection for new research by digitization and developing new ways of making it useable for research.

The NIOD war letters collection contains letters from persecuted Jews, political prisoners, resistance members, displaced persons, refugees, volunteers at the Eastern Front, or men in forced labor programs and many more. This is a uniquely diverse group of people on the move, most of them Dutch but not all of them. They all exchanged letters with their loved ones, parents, friends, acquaintances at home or on the move elsewhere. These letters tell the intense stories of interpersonal contact between people in times of war and occupation. They provide insight into experiencing times of uncertainty, violence, occupation, war, oppression, persecution, collaboration and scarcity – giving us a glimpse of their hopes and fears, agency and meaning making.

The initial phase of the project consists of the digitization of the letters. This is, basically, the process of scanning, transcribing, and annotating the letters. But the next phase will be creating a structured, scholarly dataset that can be used in research for the application of, for example, quantitative text analysis or GIS.

This latter part is what you will be working on: digitizing is one thing, rethinking historical sources as a digitized dataset and using it for research purposes is something different. That’s where our expertise as historians able to reflect on sources is needed.

In other words: you will not ‘just’ work with these letters and learn about the lives of the people who wrote them, but you will also rethink these letters as part of a large-scale digital data collection. This is where the academic discipline of history meets digital humanities and archive studies. Teaming up we all get more out of it.
PeriodNov 2020Apr 2021
Examinee
Examination held at
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Keywords

  • war letters
  • research master
  • digitization
  • datafication
  • egodocuments
  • source criticism
  • methodology