CFP: Comparative Lenses: Video Testimonies of Survivors and Eyewitnesses on Genocide and Mass Violence

Brian Schiff Discussion

CFP: Comparative Lenses:

Video Testimonies of Survivors and Eyewitnesses on Genocide and Mass Violence


The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention, Yahad – In Unum, the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, and the AGBU Nubar Library are organizing an international interdisciplinary conference on the scholarly uses of video testimonies for understanding genocide and mass violence. The conference will be held in Paris on June 6th and 7th 2019.


The conference

Victim testimony as a source for the study of genocide and mass violence has been the subject of longstanding debate in the social sciences and humanities, especially among historians. This conference aims to deepen the discussion by inviting participants to present on three areas of focus:

1. video testimonies collected from the late 1970s up to the present-day 

2. video testimonies of victims as well as eyewitnesses

3. video testimonies documenting the Holocaust and other mass atrocities

The history, philosophy, technical features, as well as the pedagogical and scientific uses of some of the most substantial collections of video testimonies of Holocaust survivors have already been explored. Such is the case for the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies and the oral history collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and even more so for the Visual History Archive, whose testimonies on the Holocaust are now being increasingly searched and analyzed.

Since the 2000s new collections of video testimonies of Holocaust survivors have been created. Several video testimony projects have been undertaken outside the United States as well. The origin, methodology, goals, and potential uses of such new collections of video testimonies have yet to be explored.   

Moreover, research and documentation that take into account not only the perspectives of victims but those of eyewitnesses to violence has expanded. Such scholarship has broadened our understanding of the crimes perpetrated in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. Nevertheless, few scholars have addressed the benefits and limits of conducting research on the video testimonies of witnesses to mass violence, such as the ones interviewed by Yahad – In Unum.

The scholarly value of the video testimonies of the Visual History Archive and other collections documenting crimes other than the destruction of European Jewry (for example, those crimes committed during the Second World War against the Sinti and Roma and homosexuals or the atrocities in the former Ottoman Empire, Rwanda, Nanjing, Guatemala and in the Central African Republic) have been, for their part, little analyzed and merit careful scholarly treatment.

The goal of this conference, then, is to deepen our understanding of video testimonies documenting genocide and mass violence by exploring the following questions:

What are the challenges of collecting testimonies on genocide and mass violence? To what extent have technological advances altered the recording and subsequent exploitation of video testimonies? How has collecting video testimonies on genocide and mass violence changed the categorization and scope of the witnesses and their narratives about genocide and mass violence? Do we need a new lexicon to convey the scope of all the perspectives and points of view on genocide and mass violence?

What are the characteristics of the collections of existing video testimonies of genocide and mass violence? What is their scholarly, technical, and memorial potential?  The Visual History Archive, due to its wide accessibility and enormous scope, is prominent among the corpus of Holocaust testimonies, but to what extent is it also a relevant source for the study of the other crimes that it documents?

What insights do video testimonies of victims and eyewitnesses contribute to documenting and understanding the Holocaust and other crimes?  What are the possibilities and what are the limitations of video as a medium compared to other media used to record testimony? What do we gain by analyzing video testimony through the lens of different theoretical approaches, such as comparative history, histoire croisée, or multidirectional memory?

We welcome proposals from scholars in any discipline who seek to examine such questions about video testimonies and mass violence. Papers focusing on video testimonies that have so far received little scholarly attention are particularly welcome.

Organizing committee: Patrice Bensimon (YIU), Caitlin Bertin-Mahieux (AUP), Constance Pâris de Bollardière (AUP), Brian Schiff (AUP)

Scientific committee: Boris Adjemian (AGBU Nubar Library), Patrice Bensimon (YIU), Michal Chojak (YIU), Alexandra Garbarini (Williams College), Wolf Gruner (USC), Constance Pâris de Bollardière (AUP), Brian Schiff (AUP)


Application procedure

Papers and proposals can be submitted in English or French. Applications for grants for speakers from outside the Parisian region will be considered.

Proposals for presentations must include an abstract (no more than 500 words) and a short biography (no more than 250 words) and be sent to and by December 1, 2018.

Letters of acceptance will go out in January 2019.

For questions about the conference, please contact us at and 


The organizers

Founded in 2016 at the American University of Paris, the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention is dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing problems of our times, notably, the following:  (1) understanding the social, historical, and cultural dimensions that lead to the systematic destruction of human groups; and (2) devising innovative strategies for resolving and deterring mass violence and the violation of human rights. One of the Center’s assets is access to the complete Visual History Archive, which it makes available to researchers, students and public.

Yahad - In Unum identifies the execution sites of Jews during the Second World War, records and films the testimonies from witnesses of these massacres. To this day, Yahad has led research on 2,447 execution sites and has gathered 5,958 testimonies in eight countries (the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Poland, Romania, Moldavia, Lithuania and the Republic of Macedonia). These testimonies of eyewitnesses provide a new historical source shedding light on the specificity of the genocide at the local level. Following its original interview methodology of witnesses to the Holocaust, Yahad has started the collecting of testimonies of Maya victims of the armed conflict in Guatemala (118 to date) and of Yezidi victims of Isis in Iraq and Syria.

USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, founded in 2014, is the research and scholarship unit of the USC Shoah Foundation. The Center is dedicated to advancing new areas of interdisciplinary research on the Holocaust and other genocides, while promoting the scholarly use of the 55,000 video testimonies of the Holocaust, the Armenian, Guatemalan, Rwandan and Cambodian genocide, the Nanjing massacres and other historical and current mass atrocities in the Visual History Archive. The Center organizes annual international conferences, hosts a speaker series on genocide and mass violence, and offers a competitive international research fellowship program.

The AGBU Nubar Library was founded in Paris in 1928. Its first director, Aram Andonian, had been one of the few survivors among the leading Armenian intellectuals and notables arrested by the Ottoman authorities on 24 April 1915. He dedicated the rest of his life to documenting the Armenian genocide, by gathering a great number of materials into a major archive. Conceived as a home for Armenian and Oriental studies, in a context marked by the destruction and dispersal of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire after the genocide, the Nubar Library has been assigned the role of preserving the memory and heritage of Ottoman Armenians and has made a major contribution to the historiography of the Armenian genocide. The Library, the sole major archive in Europe of its type, contributes to the shedding of light on the nineteenth and twentieth century Armenian experience and serves as a hub providing unfettered access to researchers, academics and others.