2017: A Successful Year for EHRI in Italy

EHRI in Italy
Monday, 5 February, 2018

In 2015, the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center CDEC in Milan joined the EHRI project and became involved in no less than five key areas: Dissemination and Communication (Work Package 2), Expanding and Keeping (WP3), Coordination with other Research Infrastructures (WP6), Data Identification and Integration (WP9), and Users and Standards (WP11).

This all came together in 2017. Between March and June, the CDEC Foundation organised three workshops - one national, two international - in the framework of Expanding and Keeping, Coordination with Research Infrastructures and New Methodologies, and Data Identification and Integration. In addition, CDEC also hosted the 2017 EHRI annual General Partner Meeting. Nearly seventy people, representing 24 partner institutions and based in one of 17 countries that support the EHRI project, gathered to present, discuss and evaluate the results and future of the project.

2017 represented a good year for the EHRI project, especially in Italy. For those at CDEC these events were considered also very successful, particularly in helping raise awareness of the Italian contribution to the field of Holocaust Studies. Thanks to EHRI a relatively small Italian institution like the CDEC Foundation was able work together with the most relevant institutions in the field. The three EHRI workshops organised by the CDEC Foundation, provided a great networking opportunity.

Holocaust-related collections from Italy

The first workshop was held in March in Milan. It was a national meeting devoted to “Holocaust-related Collections from Italian Collection Holding Institutions: Evaluation and measures for the integration in the EHRI web portal”. The main goal of the meeting was to identify Italian Collection Holding Institutions that could be interested in providing contents for the EHRI portal, and the discussion of possible integration strategies. Representatives from ten Italian institutions - public and private, Jewish and non-Jewish - participated. It was a particularly fruitful meeting due to of the presence of several team members from EHRI Work Packages on Data Integration and Workflows who were in Milan for internal meetings. Their presence was very helpful because they could tackle issues and problems regarding data integration straight away. One of main key outcomes of the March meeting in Milan was an agreement between EHRI and the Direzione Generale degli Archivi (DGA) for the latter to act as a content provider. This agreement will facilitate the integration of information coming from many of the Italian State Archives which is currently scattered throughout several regions.

The Holocaust in Southern Europe

The second meeting was an international workshop held in Trieste dedicated to “The Holocaust in Southern Europe – Sources for Searching the Names” (5-6 April 2017). It was organised with the support of the local University, in the framework of Work Package 3 which focuses on Expanding and Keeping. The aim of this work package is to support and enable regional networks, “giving priority to regions and institutions that currently have a limited institutionalization of Holocaust research, limited connections outside their boundaries because of language barriers or traditions of scholarly isolation”.  The CDEC Foundation, as regional coordinator for Southern Europe, was engaged to facilitate relationships and ties with institutions from the Balkan countries. In this perspective, Trieste as a venue was not chosen by chance: the city represents a historical and geographical crossroad between Italy and the Balkans. The aim of the workshop was to gather a general overview of the current state of both archives and Holocaust Studies – particularly those relating to the names of victims - in Southern Europe. Fourteen researchers, archivists and historians from Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Italy were invited to present case studies. Some of the institutions that were represented consider EHRI a resource that can assist in improving their connections with other European and international institutions. After this workshop several participants have since become involved in other EHRI activities.

Shortly after this workshop, Trieste was the location of another EHRI event, a six-day seminar on “The Nazi Occupation and the Extermination of the European Jews. Methods, sources and interpretations: a focus on Italy and Lithuania”. Although held in Italy, this seminar was jointly organised by the Mémorial de la Shoah of Paris and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (VGSJM) of Vilnius, with the kind support of the University of Trieste.

Data sharing, Holocaust documentation and the Digital Humanities

The third and last workshop that was organised by CDEC, was devoted to “Data Sharing, Holocaust Documentation and the Digital Humanities: Best Practices, Case Studies and Benefits”. It took place in June in Venice and was kindly supported by Digital Humanities Masters Program at the Cà Foscari University in Venice, which also hosted the event. This workshop gathered 24 professionals including archivists, historians, IT specialists from 15 different institutions in Europe, Israel, and the US.

The primary motivation behind the meeting was to find ways to coordinate the EHRI Project with other research infrastructures and, if possible, to define intersections with new methodological frameworks. The lively discussions focussed on practicalities: can we take advantage of new technologies to create a wide network of institutions who share their common data? How can we reuse what others have already done in the field?

Main challenge for 2018

Every workshop began with an extensive introduction to the EHRI project and its different areas of activity. This introduction always received enthusiastic responses and the will of attendees to actively participate has helped very much with the wider dissemination of the EHRI project.

Overall, 2017 was a very fruitful and productive year for EHRI both in Italy as a whole, and at CDEC. The main challenge for 2018 and further ahead will be to keep alive the enthusiasm of people and institutions that are not in contact with EHRI on a day-to-day basis. We hope to establish permanent relationships with them that will allow EHRI to constantly grow, enlarging its network of people and enriching its informative and knowledge assets.  

Laura Brazzo and Petra Drenth