Project

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust with social media: A learning ecologies perspective

Goal: With the passing of the generation that witnessed and experienced the Holocaust, Holocaust education will progressively rely less on public speakers and more on audio-visual testimonies and second and third generation accounts, as well as on written texts or audio-visual recordings (Gross & Stevick, 2015). This notion is further strengthened by scholars like Burkhardt (2017), who concludes that the memory and reminder of the Nazi-German crimes of 1933-1945 cannot do without pictures and places where the narratives about the past can be situated and visually supported. Thanks to new technologies and a growing number of museums, opportunities to hear accounts and survivor testimonies will be preserved (Polgar, 2019). Indeed, advances in communication technology and the ongoing expansion of the Internet are making new forms of Holocaust education available, presenting a new range of opportunities and challenges (Gray, 2014; IHRA, 2019b). As recently stressed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in the new Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust (IHRA, 2019c), social media can be an important part of contemporary education. Holocaust scholars recommend forms of Holocaust commemoration that engage future generations via alternative accounts and perspectives that are nonetheless firmly grounded in fact and/or based on sound research (Berberich, 2018).
Although school is usually perceived as a major socialization agent for Holocaust memory (e.g., IHRA, 2019a), formal, lecture-style classroom lessons are still the dominant educational approach. By contrast, scholars have stressed that teaching about the Holocaust in a non-formal manner creates symmetry between teachers and students and a special educational atmosphere which enables discussion and the honing of sensitive and complex issues that may arise (Cohen, 2013; Gross, 2010). Among the agencies gaining momentum in this respect are Holocaust museums with their educational departments, offering valuable and rich quality resources for remembrance and historical knowledge (Cowan & Maitles, 2017; Polgar, 2019). Despite having a varied agenda of commemoration as well as educating and engaging their visitors, museums can shape the public’s understanding of the past, and create, strengthen or challenge a historical narrative (Eberle, 2015; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2011; Gerstenfeld, 2009).
While today Holocaust memorialisation has become a globalized phenomenon and helped give rise to an emerging global consensus on human rights (Levy & Sznaider, 2005), focusing on questions such as what motivates people to commit such atrocities, if the events are to be understood in context the distinctive historical and political factors also have to be considered (Cohen, 2013). In this light, there is a need for multiple channels of information and knowledge, including those such as social media that rely on youth’s digital habits; indeed, these have become a mainstream communication channel, especially for youngsters.
Despite the general growing use of social media platforms among different user groups, and the pace at which technology has advanced and integrated significantly into youths’ lives, “there is [still] a distinct absence of research on how the internet and in particular social media impact on students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, as well as the way that they perceive the subject in terms of its relevance and importance” (Gray, 2014: 105). Today, very few studies have been conducted to investigate the various types of engagements people are having around Holocaust remembrance on social media (Burkhardt, 2015; 2017; Carter-White, 2018; Commane & Potton, 2019; Dalziel, 2016; Makhortykh, 2019), or how Holocaust organizations are shaping their communication strategies to engage their public on social media (Burkhardt, 2017; Manca, 2019).
This research study sets out to explore how learning about the Holocaust may unfold in open and online environments as conveyed by social media from a “learning in the wild” perspective (Haythornthwaite, 2015; Haythornthwaite et al., 2018). The specific purposes of the study are to identify drivers and obstacles for learning practices on social media profiles of Holocaust memorials and museums that engage specifically younger generations, and to provide indications for teachers’ professional development on the various themes of Holocaust education based on social media use.

Date: 1 September 2019

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Stefania Manca
added a research item
This study takes a social-technical systems approach to investigate how national and transnational memory of the Holocaust are intertwined on the social media profiles of a set of Italian museums and memorials. We examine how Italy’s four most important Holocaust museums and memorials use social media as ecosystems to provide historical content and engage their audiences in digital remembrance about the Holocaust on four social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Results show that posts on Facebook led to a higher volume of interactivity and positive responses than posts on the other platforms, while user activity in terms of creating new posts remains low on all four platforms. The four institutions tend to address a national audience and interweave transnational Holocaust memorial themes with distinctively national ones. Although the examined social media profiles demonstrate that museums and memorials are reliable sources of historical and trustworthy information through which they shape memory ecologies, their use reflects a conservational attitude, with a preference for a target audience over the age of 25, expressed both in the choice of platforms adopted and in the mostly one-way communication approach employed. The paper outlines implications for further social media practice in Digital Holocaust Memory.
Stefania Manca
added a research item
In this report, we present the findings of a Delphi Study aimed at validating a framework which has been designed to analyse Holocaust-related content published on the social media profiles of Holocaust museums. The study may also be considered as a pedagogical tool for teachers to provide orientation for conducting their own analysis or research and find best practices to navigate the various materials available on social media for studying and teaching about the Holocaust. The framework serves the purpose of providing guidance on how to classify information pertaining to three major domains: Historical content of the Holocaust, Contemporary issues related to the Holocaust, and Museum activities and communication. Each domain comprises a set of macro and micro categories, for each of which a definition and examples have been given. Depending on the nature of the posts, some categories may be selected, and others ignored. Key Findings • This Delphi study involved a comprehensive panel of 22 international experts who, in a three round process, reached consensus on a framework composed of a set of macro and micro categories organised into three domains that are suitable for capturing the various topics addressed by Holocaust museums in their social media profiles in the field of Digital Holocaust Memory. • The framework was extensively revised from Round 1 to Round 2, while Round 3 served the purpose of refining some micro categories and their definitions. • The final framework comprises three domains and is constituted by 18 macro categories and 68 micro categories. • Periodisation of historical content, agency and stages of the Holocaust remain open issues as there is still much debate among historians about these notions.
Stefania Manca
added a research item
Along with advances in communication technology that are making new forms of historical memorialization and education available, social media are researched as valuable tools for supporting forms of digital memory and for engaging students and teachers about historical knowledge and moral education. This study aims to map the current state of Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust education and to identify main topics of research in the two areas. It adopts a mixed-method approach that combines qualitative analysis with bibliometric approaches to review publications that use social media for digital memory and history education about the Holocaust. Results based on 28 publications reveal several research topics and that, despite some common theoretical references, the two subfields mostly rely on separate conceptual backgrounds. While Holocaust remembrance is a well-established research field, there are few studies and a lack of theoretical elaboration about social media use for teaching and learning about the Holocaust.
Stefania Manca
added a research item
With the passing of the last testimonies, Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust education progressively rely on digital technologies to engage people in immersive, simulative, and even counterfactual memories of the Holocaust. This preliminary study investigates how three prominent Holocaust museums use social media to enhance the general public’s knowledge and understanding of historical and remembrance events. A mixed-method approach based on a combination of social media analytics and latent semantic analysis was used to investigate the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube profiles of Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Auschwitz–Birkenau Memorial and Museum. This social media analysis adopted a combination of metrics and was focused on how these social media profiles engage the public at both the page-content and relational levels, while their communication strategies were analysed in terms of generated content, interactivity, and popularity. Latent semantic analysis was used to analyse the most frequently used hashtags and words to investigate what topics and phrases appear most often in the content posted by the three museums. Overall, the results show that the three organisations are more active on Twitter than on Facebook and Instagram, with the Auschwitz–Birkenau Museum and Memorial occupying a prominent position in Twitter discourse while Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum had stronger presences on YouTube. Although the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibits some interactivity with its Facebook fan community, there is a general tendency to use social media as a one-way broadcast mode of communication. Finally, the analysis of terms and hashtags revealed the centrality of “Auschwitz” as a broad topic of Holocaust discourse, overshadowing other topics, especially those related to recent events.
Stefania Manca
added a research item
Nur wenige Studien haben bis dato untersucht, wie Holocaust-Organisationen Soziale Medien in ihrer Öffentlichkeits- und Bildungsarbeit einsetzen. Diese Studie präsentiert die Resultate einer Literaturrecherche zur Nutzung von sozialen Medien für die Holocaust-Gedenkarbeit und -Erziehung sowie die Ergebnisse einer quantitativen Vorstudie zur Twitter-Nutzung von sechs Holocaust-Museen und -Organisationen in Deutschland und Italien. To date, few studies have investigated social media use in Holocaust organizations to engage general public and to help expand their knowledge of the Holocaust. We present an overview of the literature about the usage of social media for Holocaust memorialisation and education and a preliminary study on the usage of Twitter in a sample of six Holocaust museums or organisations in Germany and Italy. Along with the results of a first quantitative analysis, we also provide indications for future research.
Stefania Manca
added a research item
In historical memory education, digital technologies are gaining momentum and becoming influential in enhancing the general public's knowledge and understanding of historical events such as genocides and war atrocities. Holocaust remembrance centres and Holocaust museums have had a solid presence on the Internet for considerable time now, curating websites, mailing lists and other digital services. Social media are increasingly proving to be extremely valuable tools for allowing museums to engage with their public and for managing relations with past and future visitors. Indeed, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Instagram profiles have become significant components of the communication portfolios of various Holocaust organisations. Twitter mostly helps the public to keep up with the latest information and developments of the organisations concerned, while the Facebook pages of Holocaust victims and individual memorials are mainly set up for historical memorialisation. Despite growing use of these channels, very little research has been conducted to investigate the communication strategy of Holocaust organizations in social media, and a comprehensive overview of Holocaust memorial site presence on social media is still lacking. This study provides a preliminary analysis of Facebook pages and Twitter profiles of 23 memorials of former concentration camp located across Europe. The overarching aim is to investigate how these memorial organisations engage the public through social media, both at content page level and at relational level. The communication strategies of Facebook pages and Twitter profiles were analysed in terms of generated content, interactivity and popularity. A quantitative analysis was conducted by manual search and inspection of pages and profiles, combined with the application of social media data analysis platforms like LikeAlyzer, Fanpage Karma and Twitonomy. Results show that the majority (N=17) of the memorial organizations have a Facebook page, while only about a third (N=9) are active on Twitter. Moreover, great variance among the various social media services was observed, with many showing limited activity or low engagement levels. Indications for future research and limitations of the study are also reported.
Stefania Manca
added a project goal
With the passing of the generation that witnessed and experienced the Holocaust, Holocaust education will progressively rely less on public speakers and more on audio-visual testimonies and second and third generation accounts, as well as on written texts or audio-visual recordings (Gross & Stevick, 2015). This notion is further strengthened by scholars like Burkhardt (2017), who concludes that the memory and reminder of the Nazi-German crimes of 1933-1945 cannot do without pictures and places where the narratives about the past can be situated and visually supported. Thanks to new technologies and a growing number of museums, opportunities to hear accounts and survivor testimonies will be preserved (Polgar, 2019). Indeed, advances in communication technology and the ongoing expansion of the Internet are making new forms of Holocaust education available, presenting a new range of opportunities and challenges (Gray, 2014; IHRA, 2019b). As recently stressed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in the new Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust (IHRA, 2019c), social media can be an important part of contemporary education. Holocaust scholars recommend forms of Holocaust commemoration that engage future generations via alternative accounts and perspectives that are nonetheless firmly grounded in fact and/or based on sound research (Berberich, 2018).
Although school is usually perceived as a major socialization agent for Holocaust memory (e.g., IHRA, 2019a), formal, lecture-style classroom lessons are still the dominant educational approach. By contrast, scholars have stressed that teaching about the Holocaust in a non-formal manner creates symmetry between teachers and students and a special educational atmosphere which enables discussion and the honing of sensitive and complex issues that may arise (Cohen, 2013; Gross, 2010). Among the agencies gaining momentum in this respect are Holocaust museums with their educational departments, offering valuable and rich quality resources for remembrance and historical knowledge (Cowan & Maitles, 2017; Polgar, 2019). Despite having a varied agenda of commemoration as well as educating and engaging their visitors, museums can shape the public’s understanding of the past, and create, strengthen or challenge a historical narrative (Eberle, 2015; European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2011; Gerstenfeld, 2009).
While today Holocaust memorialisation has become a globalized phenomenon and helped give rise to an emerging global consensus on human rights (Levy & Sznaider, 2005), focusing on questions such as what motivates people to commit such atrocities, if the events are to be understood in context the distinctive historical and political factors also have to be considered (Cohen, 2013). In this light, there is a need for multiple channels of information and knowledge, including those such as social media that rely on youth’s digital habits; indeed, these have become a mainstream communication channel, especially for youngsters.
Despite the general growing use of social media platforms among different user groups, and the pace at which technology has advanced and integrated significantly into youths’ lives, “there is [still] a distinct absence of research on how the internet and in particular social media impact on students’ knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, as well as the way that they perceive the subject in terms of its relevance and importance” (Gray, 2014: 105). Today, very few studies have been conducted to investigate the various types of engagements people are having around Holocaust remembrance on social media (Burkhardt, 2015; 2017; Carter-White, 2018; Commane & Potton, 2019; Dalziel, 2016; Makhortykh, 2019), or how Holocaust organizations are shaping their communication strategies to engage their public on social media (Burkhardt, 2017; Manca, 2019).
This research study sets out to explore how learning about the Holocaust may unfold in open and online environments as conveyed by social media from a “learning in the wild” perspective (Haythornthwaite, 2015; Haythornthwaite et al., 2018). The specific purposes of the study are to identify drivers and obstacles for learning practices on social media profiles of Holocaust memorials and museums that engage specifically younger generations, and to provide indications for teachers’ professional development on the various themes of Holocaust education based on social media use.