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In this short film, the three lead educators of the course welcome you, and talk about why we made “Photographing the Holocaust”.
The course “Photographing the Holocaust” is a joint project of the University of Nottingham and the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in the UK. Over the next three weeks, we will explore photos of the Holocaust, how they shape our understanding, and how they influence the way we see images of conflict and violence today. As regular consumers of such images it is our responsibility to look carefully and think again!
In the video above you can find out more about the key players behind this MOOC and their deeper motivations. Maiken Umbach, Professor of Modern History at the University of Nottingham, Claudia Reese, Senior Researcher at the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum, and Louise Stafford, the museum’s Director of Learning will speak about their work and how it joins up in this course.
To start with, let’s talk a little bit about what awaits you. First, to be clear, this is not a course about the Holocaust in general. Definitions and the chronology of events are easy to find: many reputable sources are online. Here, we focus on images: how they shape our understanding, how they can distort this history, and how we can best use them as evidence.
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Photographing the Holocaust
In Week 1, you will learn that many of the iconic photos of the Holocaust, which dominate museums, textbooks, and documentaries today, are perpetrator-made. Such image, used uncritically, can distort history. Nazi Propaganda images seek to manipulate viewers into seeing Jewish people as helpless, barely human, doomed to die. We also explore private images: photos taken by countless ordinary Germans, soldiers, and members of the SS. They offer different insights into the Holocaust and the motivations of perpetrators. But these photos, too, are deeply biased sources.
In Week 2, we turn to very different photos: photos created by the victims of Nazi racial policies. Eager to create their their own photographic records, Jewish people and other persecuted individuals used the camera to defend their identities, and to document what was done to them. Our explorations will range from private Jewish family albums made in the 1930s, via photos of flight and emigration, to photos by victims made in ghettos and camps. This will enable us to compare the visual language of the perpetrators with that of the victims.
In Week 3, we will look at the immediate effects of perpetrator and liberator photography on the understanding of the Holocaust by audiences after 1945. But we will also look beyond the Holocaust itself. We ask how photographic conventions of the perpetrators still influence the way some photos are taken today. Think of the famous images from Abu Grahib… Less dramatic, but even more widely viewed, are photos in news reporting about violence and refugees. Do they do justice to the victims? Are there better ways of taking and consuming such photos? How can those in the photos be empowered to take part in the creation of images? We will hear from a UN photographer and an artist who developed a photographic language that wants to do justice to the person in the image and beyond.
But in the end – all depends on us the critical consumers of images. As Maiken argues in the video, this course truly represents public history because it touches on political and societal problems that concern us all. Therefore, it works best as a collaborative effort and your input will make a real difference.
Feel free to use the comment function at the bottom of this step to introduce yourself to the educators and other learners. We’d love to hear what motivates you to take part in this course! In the first three weeks, this course will be facilitated. That means members of the team who created it will regularly log in and reply to your comments, or to themes that emerge in discussions between learners. So this is your chance to talk to us directly!
Finally, a word of warning. It is inevitable with this subject matter that some photos we will look at are upsetting. We have tried to stay away from the most gruesome images of the Holocaust. But to understand this topic, we need to explore photos of human suffering, and some photos that show dead bodies. Please use your own discretion, and do not share the content with young children in your household.
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Photographing the Holocaust
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