Vita Dadoo Lomeli
“The Holocaust and Representation” a spring semester cross-listed in the German Studies and History Departments, aims to explore the relationship between trauma, violence and narrative. Orchestrated by Dr. Scott Denham, Charles A. Dana Professor of German Studies, the seminar is based on various previously offered courses taught by Denham and former Davidson facuty member Dr. Thomas Pegelow Kaplan. After teaching a historiography seminar for undergraduate students at Harvard, a humanities-style course on the culture and society in Weimar and Nazi Germany, as well as co-teaching a Holocaust course alongside Pegelow Kaplan, Denham is primarily interested in the myriad ways we tend to memorialize the past.
In exploring the process of memorialization, 12 students enrolled in the course will take a study trip to Berlin alongside nine faculty members. Relying on the main strains of historiography, one goal of the study trip is to understand how society discusses the Holocaust outside the guild of historians.
“The idea behind the trip is to use ‘place’ as a kind of laboratory,” Denham said. “It is based around the idea of understanding human creation, which provides us with knowledge about the world. This happens best when you interact with it…Sometimes we create knowledge by those kinds of interactions. For the purpose of the trip, on-site interaction with history and memory is fundamental.”
The faculty fellows joining the students in Berlin belong to different departments in the College and possess a unique skill set that will be instrumental in teaching the course. Interested in twentieth-century totalitarian regimes, displacement and trauma, Dr. Roman Utkin, Assistant Professor of Russian Studies, will join Denham as the second professor responsible on the trip. Further, Caitlin Christian-Lamb, the College’s associate archivist, will engage the students in archival research, drawing from her experience working at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The departments of Psychology, English, French and Francophone Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Religion and Hispanic Studies are also represented by faculty participating in the trip to Berlin.
The trip – taking place during Spring Break – is funded through different means. The primary share of the funds comes from the Davidson Research Initiative Weinstein Fund. The Davidson Research Initiative (DRI) usually offers a wide range of opportunities for collaborative research between faculty and students in an effort to expand the students’ depth of knowledge outside the classroom and enable students to develop a unique set of critical skills. In the past, DRI has funded other study trips for courses such as “Germany for Economics and Policy” and “Post- Wall Germany.” The Faculty Development Funds granted additional funding from the Duke Endowment, as well as the Bacca Foundation Fund. The Bacca Foundation is primarily responsible for bringing noteworthy scholars to campus for short-term residences in order to engage students in innovative and meaningful ways. Although the seminar will not summon scholars from outside the college, the Bacca Foundation Funds will be used to mirror a similar teaching experience using Berlin as the place of residency.
Through first-hand exposure to memorial sites and pop-up seminars, the trip’s aim is for students and faculty to partake in an intellectual discourse as to how we interact with memorial spaces. “We interact with the space in several ways, “ Denham explained. “Do you go as a student? Do you go as a mourner? These interactions give us a critical understanding of how a society marks trauma and loss and lets us see how we use a space as a teaching tool, whether it’s a museum or a pedagogy space. This gives us a higher level of self-awareness of Holocaust historiography and makes us aware of how we deal with public memory.
“We are going to Berlin because it is from there that the Holocaust was planned and carried out. It’s the crucible of the course.”
The course’s outcomes will involve continuous collaboration amongst students in the course and different faculty fellows joining the trip. Students will have access to a wide range of archives, which will allow them to develop a public history capstone project in the course; perhaps, for example, crafting a narrative of memorial sites located primarily in the southern United States. In these narratives, students might explore the motivation behind the creation of Holocaust memorial spaces. This could involve additional field trips and on-site interaction with the space. By the end of the course, Denham expects students to know the discourse and standards used to talk about memory and, either independently or collaboratively, investigate representations of the Holocaust that interest them. Denham hopes that the course will lend everyone enough authority and independence to talk about and compare the Holocaust with other historical events, and do so responsibly.