Who Watches the Watchers?
What inspires individuals to revisit tragedy? And what gives them the strength to do it again and again? Rachel Fidler ’14 sought the answers to these questions by interviewing and surveying Holocaust museum staff across the nation for her senior thesis.
“The nature of the Holocaust, often difficult to comprehend and challenging to reconcile with, made the lives of the employees who worked in Holocaust museums of particular interest to me,” says the psychology and anthropology dual major from San Diego, Calif. “Through my thesis, I wanted to explore staffs’ personal perspectives of their workplace and their motivations for pursuing careers in this field.”
Fidler drew inspiration for her thesis from a public tour of the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual Histories Archives that exposed her to the sophisticated indexing and cataloging systems used for individual testimonies. The admiration was mutual; according to public relations manager Josh Grossberg, Shoah staff were quick to help Fidler after being impressed by her initiative and the scope of her project.
“We’re pleased to work with a student who shows such interest in memorial museum studies, something we too are very passionate about,” he says.
When Fidler was granted Institutional Review Board approval for her thesis, she began the bulk of her research interviewing and surveying staff and volunteers at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, New York while continuing to collaborate with the Shoah Foundation, using its VHA testimonies as a microanalysis of museum content.“The prevalence of museums and memorial spaces in just about every community in our country points to the significance of these structures,” says Fidler. “Though the Holocaust is often regarded with heaviness and solemnity, framed by the deaths of millions, the experiences of staff and volunteers are full of the joy of life in the museum space.”
Fidler hopes her thesis will contribute to the burgeoning research field of memorial museum studies.
“Memorials of the Holocaust are invaluable in their efforts to preserve and share stories of survivors and encourage tolerance in future generations,” she says.
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