I Was There: Places of Experience in the Holocaust

Authors: Anne Knowles*, University of Maine
Topics: Cartography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Topological mapping, Holocaust, interviews, experience
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Chairman's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper describes a new approach to mapping the human experience. Conventional cartography and GIS use latitude and longitude to place objects in space. However, exact coordinates are often impossible to determine for small places or for historical places that have ambiguous location. This problem is common in the interviews of Holocaust survivors, which include many references to uncertain places and events that were important to victims' spatial experience. Our map, I Was There: Places of Experience in the Holocaust, addresses this challenge and plots all the places mentioned in interviews with two Holocaust survivors. While large places, such as cities and concentration camps, are located according to their coordinates in a Cartesian space, uncertain places such as barracks, woods, rooms, even a window and a pocket, are located based on their topological relationship to other places mentioned in the interviews. The map’s design suggests cartographic language, and an underlying topological structure, that could be adapted for other personal accounts in which geographic awareness ranges from acute to virtually blind, but in which place continues to be crucial for understanding experience.

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