Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Embodied memory: The formation of archived audiovisual Holocaust testimony in the United States
by Shenker, Noah, Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2009, 556; 3368717
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines how the interrelationship between institutional and individual practices mediates video testimonies of the Holocaust, revealing that formal practices and institutional infrastructures influence not only the process of testimonial production but also a testimony's reception. In doing so, it extends the existing range of scholarship on archived Holocaust testimony, which has primarily explored its ethical, narrative, and psychoanalytic dimensions. Such analysis is particularly urgent given the expansion of Holocaust testimony archives in recent years in anticipation of the passing of the survivor community and the transition from living memory to postmemory. The dissertation will serve as a critical intervention for considering how survivor testimonies are preserved for future generations that will have no direct access to witnesses.

This study focuses on three archives and memorial sites in the United States: the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Each site embodies distinct yet intersecting institutional histories and approaches to the collection of testimony. That is not to suggest, however, that their archival structures somehow determine the meanings and use value of their respective holdings. While certain infrastructures serve to advance representational preferences, the spontaneous and fragmentary dimensions of personal memory sometimes impede any integration with or subordination to archival preferences for using testimony. By examining specific interviews in relation to their institutional frameworks, this study demonstrates how the traumatic registers of memory often disrupt the particular itineraries of institutions gathering video accounts of witnesses.

Ultimately, this dissertation argues that with the emergence of postmemory, it is essential to cultivate new methodologies and approaches to collecting and transmitting testimonies that train our sensitivity to their lived, physical origins as well as to institutional practices. Testimony can never be reduced to its empirical historical content or raw visceral impact. Thus, this dissertation will investigate testimony as an individually and institutionally embedded and embodied practice framed by a diverse range of aims and preferences.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Renov, Michael
Commitee: Jaikumar, Priya, Lerner, Paul, Walker, Janet
School: University of Southern California
Department: Cinema-Television(Cinema Critical Studies)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Judaic studies, Film studies
Keywords: Archive, Documentary film, Historical memory, Holocaust, Testimony, Trauma
Publication Number: 3368717
ISBN: 9781109295122
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