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Contested Histories, Challenging Memories: Immersive Encounters with the Past

This is a collaborative project between Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture (BIRMAC), School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London and the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism.

Images and sounds from the Holocaust archive form the backbone of public knowledge of histories of racism, displacement, war and genocide. More recently, the Holocaust archive has been mediated using a range of immersive technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. With the increased use of such strategies, there is a need to understand more deeply how these technologies articulate historical meaning, shape understanding of, and emotional responses to, contested histories and crucially convey the relevance of the historical past in the present. 

This research initiative aims to: 

  • Bring together academics and critics, artists, filmmakers and museum professionals to debate the innovative use of aural and visual installations – the reuse, recycling, appropriation and borrowing of archival sounds and images – dealing with contested and difficult histories
  • Share empirical insights into how immersive mediations in museums and public spaces shape visitors’ emotional engagements, remembering and understanding of difficult, and often traumatic pasts 
  • Develop interdisciplinary critical thinking about the use of immersive technologies in curatorial practice.  

The public events connected to this research initiative include: 

  • Curating Sound for Difficult Histories (one-day colloquium), May 2018, Arts Week, Birkbeck 
  • Performativity of Images in the Public Space (one-day workshop), and screening of documentary film ‘The Waldheim Waltz’ (Ruth Beckermann), June 2019, Arts Week, Birkbeck
  • Mobilising Memory through Mixed Reality (Experimental Humanities Collaborative Network, online skills-based workshop), May 2021, Arts Week, Birkbeck 
  • Staging Difficult Histories through Immersive Technologies (online event), June 2021. 

Project Team: Silke Arnold-de Simine, Department of European Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck, Janet McCabe, Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Birkbeck and Diana Popescu, Associate Research Fellow, Pears Institute.

Image credit: Yad Vashem Hall of Names, David Shankbone. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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The Pears Institute is a respected source of independent advice and comment on antisemitism, contributing to policy formation and public debate.

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