Building an HGIS of Holocaust Ghettos: An Integrated, Interdisciplinary Model for Humanistic Database Construction

Authors: Justus Hillebrand*, History Department, Anne Kelly Knowles, University of Maine
Topics: Historical Geography
Keywords: Historical GIS, Holocaust ghettos, humanistic database design, digital humanities
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since the fall of the Soviet Union and opening of Soviet archives, scholars have written many important works about the ghettos in German-occupied Eastern Europe. The first generation of scholarship has focused on single ghettos or German administrative areas, with an emphasis on Nazi policy, actions against Jews, and personal accounts in memoirs and post-war interviews. The Holocaust Ghettos Project is the first major effort to study the geography of ghettoization, both as a spatial process and as particular acts that transformed places and individuals’ lives at different times, in different ways, across a vast region.

To provide a firm geographical basis for our analysis, we are building a multi-part historical GIS of ghettos from information in a comprehensive encyclopedia of 1,149 ghettos. Other papers in this and the following session will present preliminary findings from our analysis of the spatial and temporal dynamics of ghettoization, the differences among ghettos across Eastern Europe and within administrative districts, and our approach to connecting individual victims’ experiences to ghettos under German occupation. This paper will explain how the challenges posed by incomplete, inconsistently expressed historical information led the Holocaust Ghettos Project research team to develop an interdisciplinary model for database construction. Through a lengthy, recursive process of discussion, prototyping, testing, and refinement, the team found ways to integrate disciplinary expertise with technical best practices. The resulting field definitions and metadata provide training and reference information for those involved in data entry and proofing as well as future users of the database.

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