What is this project all about?
From 1941 to 1944, the Nazis murdered perhaps 80,000 people, mostly Jews, in a small concentration camp in the suburbs of Lviv, Ukraine called Janowska. The camp also served as an indispensable accomplice in deporting and exterminating the bulk of the 160,000 Jews in the city as well as tens of thousands from the surrounding countryside. Verylittle remains of the site today and little archaeology is possible as the area is still largely part of a Ukrainian prison. Commemoration and public history around the former camp is limited, even for the inhabitants of Lviv. A methodology incorporating the spatial turn-an analysis of space and place in the camp, as well at multiple scales-is therefore especially suited to investigating the built environment of this camp.
Relying on the archival research for a completed scholarly book manuscript, this project aims to build the first Historical Building Information Model (HBIM) of a Nazi concentration camp. This pathbreaking digital humanities (DH) project will add to several critical scholarly discussions: 1) the use of DH tools in modeling and scholarly analysis, 2) the pedagogical utility of HBIM in public history, 3) the ethical considerations raised by the application of this methodology to sensitive topics like sites of suffering and genocide as well as its prospective suitability in the heritage sector. In addition, it will offer me as a digital humanist to hone my skills in the doing of DH and in leading an interdisciplinary team.
HBIMs are rapidly becoming a cutting-edge tool for both the preservation and analysis of historical spaces. Once built, the model will enable a variety of research exploring issues such as visibility, perspective, even the modelling of sound. Such inquiries can both answer and ask important questions about the lived experience of the camp that other methodologies cannot.
The process of creation raises important theoretical and methodological questions of great interest to the larger historical community. Historical sources are by nature imperfect and will lend varying degrees of accuracy to the HBIM. In reconciling these sources, this project operates at the forefront of DH work by grappling with mapping ambiguity and qualitative mapping. For example, what choices do we make in modelling when we have less than perfect information about the built environment and how do we visualize that ambiguity and indicate it to the user?
Equally important, this project will encounter critical ethical questions that bear investigating. How do we visualize these spaces? What choices must be made with regards to realism and representation? Only through the process of modelling can these practices be explored. One of the outputs of this project will be at least one but potentially more scholarly journal articles reflecting on the theoretical, methodological, and ethical questions and lessons learned from this digital reconstruction.
Finally, the web-based educational platform (which will incorporate the model) will link archival information such as testimony and images spatially within the model, providing a rigorously curated introduction to the important history of the camp and the Holocaust in Lviv/Galizien. This additional project element performs two critical roles. First, as it will be
translated into Ukrainian, the model will be used to educate the local population of Lviv and Ukraine. Secondly, both the project and the accompanying educational environment will model one approach to the preservation and interpretation of
heritage sites. This is especially important given the fact that the majority of the Janowska site is both inaccessible to the public and mostly physically destroyed. The recent war in Ukraine has made this even more pressing as Russian forces have destroyed Holocaust sites and archives.