Monday, 23 January 2017

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER . . . OR DO THEY?

WALK OF FAME

BY: JULIA ZUNGRI

Welcome back to Musings' Walk of Fame, 2017 edition! I believe there is no better way to begin this year's byline than by introducing all of you to an unconventional, but incredible experience to connect with history and people!


Collaboration between the University of Southern California's (USC) Shoah Foundation and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, the
“New Dimensions in Testimony" (NDT) was born. NDT is a three-dimensional audio and video recording of Holocaust survivors responding to questions in real time.   

Survivors are interviewed in a 'dome' structure that captures three-dimensional recording. The questions asked are compiled from sources such as student and public suggestions.




The above pictures are of Pinchas Gutter being interviewed for the NDT project. Source: the USC Shoah Foundation
The NDT program uses Natural Language Understanding software that recognizes keywords from the interviewer's (the visitor's) questions. These keywords are then matched with an appropriate response from the survivor based on their initial interview in the 'dome.' 



Fortunately for all of you lucky readers in the GTA, you can experience the first pilot of NDT right here in Toronto! At the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, you can interview Pinchas Gutter, a Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivor and wonderful human being who resides in Toronto. Originally available until the end of January, the opportunity to use the NDT program at the Neuberger Centre has been extended until May!

A school tour experiencing NDT. Picture courtesy of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
While visiting, if you feel a bit intimidated or need some inspiration about what to ask, just look to your right for a list of possible questions.

The 'NDT room' at the Neuberger Centre. Photo taken by author, courtesy of the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
First-hand testimony has been - and still is - an integral part to historical commemoration and education. With the increasing absence of Holocaust survivors, though, there is a need to explore new approaches that enhance the visitor's educational experience and stimulate memory, while not trivializing Holocaust history. 

For institutions that deal with difficult histories, 'post-survivor eras' is a reality that must eventually be faced. Recording survivor testimonies doesn't seem to be the issue - as the USC has proven with its Visual History Archive of over 54,000 survivor and witness testimonies from genocides and mass atrocities. Instead, the challenge for institutions is to effectively utilize a significantly documented past for present and future visitors. The NDT initiative is a positive step forward as it preserves survivor testimonies, while also providing an interactive experience with its users, even if the interviewee has since passed away.

President Obama himself touches upon one of the core objectives of NDT: the importance of telling stories to capture and teach pieces of history as lessons for the future. Here is a clip of him speaking specifically of Pinchas:

 

Of course, there is the concern and backlash that such technology trivializes history. There is also the belief that digital media applications such as NDT can never replace meeting a survivor in the flesh. However, I had the opportunity to interview Pinchas through NDT while visiting the Neuberger Centre. In addition to incredible visual and audio quality, listening to Pinchas' story is so captivating that it felt like he was really there.

I encourage all of you to contact the Neuberger Centre to arrange a time to interview Pinchas and experience something that will last generations to come. And, a piece of advice: when concluding your interview with Pinchas, I urge you to ask him about his message for the future. I assure you that after hearing his answer, you will feel inspired and hopeful.


The future possibilities of NDT as an effective learning tool in historical museums and institutions are endless. They say nothing lasts forever, but who are they anyway?!

Sources Consulted:
http://holocaustcentre.com/Museum/NDT 
https://sfi.usc.edu/vha 
https://sfi.usc.edu/collections/holocaust/ndt 

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