Sanna Stegmaier (KCL) - 2015-16 Students

'Dimensions in Testimony' as epistemic source and performative practice - Transtestimonial Holocaust Memory at the end of the 'era of witnesses' and in the digital, hyperconnective age

In my PhD project, I develop a reconceptualisation of testimony in the digital age and at the end of the ‘era of the witness’. On the one hand, the imminent disappearance of the last witnesses has prompted efforts to reinterpret and revaluate the relationship between contemporary memory culture and Holocaust testimony. On the other hand, these revaluations engage with new digital technologies with the purpose of continuing engagements with Holocaust testimony for future generations. They create a paradoxical presence of witnesses at a time of their disappearing, framing them as agents of authenticity and authority in an increasingly digitalised and virtual memory landscape.
Focusing on USC Shoah Foundation’s project ‘Dimensions in Testimony’, I ask to what extent ‘interactive biographies’ continue or challenge previous concepts of testimony and transnational Holocaust memory, as well as both ethical and methodological questions of preserving and re-presenting survivors’ voices for the future. While many analyses have focused on the technological and visual aspects of the project’s volumetric recording, few have paid attention to ethical, methodological and narratological implications of the interviews’ interactive structure. Having had unique access to the development of the first German-language interactive biography with Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, my thesis contextualises ‘interactive biographies’ in the interdisciplinary fields of testimony studies, cultural memory studies, digital memory studies, and concepts of vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of delegitimizing survivors’ accounts as testimony or not, I conceptualise interactive biographies as complex but unique additional sources for research, which allow memory cultures to reflect on their own memory-making processes and the precarious conditions of engagements with testimony in the hyperconnective age and in the imminent absence of survivors.

Primary supervisor: Dr Catherine Smale, KCL
Secondary supervisor: Claudia Bruns

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