RENCI gives Carolina community access to USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive

CHAPEL HILL, NC, November 20, 2006—Students, faculty, and staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will have access to the world’s largest visual history archive beginning this month, when the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) deploys a 5.5-terabyte digital media cache of testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive.

The archive includes nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses collected in 32 languages and from 56 countries by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. The vast majority of the interviews—about 90 percent—are with Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution; however, political prisoners, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and liberators, witnesses, rescuers, and aid providers also provided testimony.

“These interviews are an important educational source that can enrich courses in the social sciences, humanities, arts, and sciences,” said RENCI Director Dan Reed. “Even more important, the archive is a testament to the millions who suffered in the Holocaust and a lesson for the present. In a sense, the archive brings together the international community of scholars so that all of us can learn from this tragedy and ultimately learn to treasure diversity and embrace it as a strength.”

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute is the successor to the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg to document the experiences of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.  With a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a pilot program allowed faculty and students at USC, Rice, Yale, and the University of Michigan to access the entire archive over the high-speed Internet2 research network. That pilot program is now expanding to include additional universities connected to Internet2, including UNC-Chapel Hill through the agreement with RENCI.

“The Visual History Archive contains what is by far the largest collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies to be found anywhere in the world,” said Chris Browning, Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at UNC-Chapel Hill. “To make this material readily available to researchers on our campus—whether faculty, graduate students, or undergraduates—is a tremendous service.  For my current research project on a complex of factory slave labor camps in southern Poland, I have had to travel as far as Warsaw and Jerusalem to collect materials.  Now a major source for my work will be readily accessible here on campus.”

“Scholars have discovered that because of the archive’s chronological reach and geographic breadth, the materials in the archive support research on virtually every aspect of 20th century history,” said historian and USC Shoah Foundation Institute Executive Director Douglas Greenberg.  “We are thrilled that the University of North Carolina will be one of the institutions to provide this resource to its students, educators, and scholars.”

Accessing the Visual History Archive requires nothing more than a PC with access to the UNC-Chapel Hill network and Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player (for Windows users) or Safari and QuickTime (for Macintosh users, although some configuration is necessary). Users can conduct a variety of searches using a hierarchical thesaurus that includes more than 50,000 geographic and experiential keywords, as well as the names of every person mentioned in the testimonies and biographical information for each interviewee. Users can request testimonies already available on the local UNC cache or request that testimonies be uploaded from the Los Angeles-based archive.

If requesting testimonies from the main archive, users are informed via email when the testimony arrives. All requests are filled within 48 hours.

RENCI also plans to apply its expertise in advanced visualization techniques to the archive, creating visual displays of the archive’s metadata that intuitively show relationships among people, places, and events and allow users to extract more meaning from the data.

“Visualization is simply a different way to present information, and it often can reveal relationships and patterns in the data that weren’t apparent before,” said Ray Idaszak, RENCI’s director of collaborative environments. “Visualization is one way to mine information out of data. By applying some of these techniques to the Visual History Archive, we can enhance an already valuable tool.”