Holocaust Memory and Visuality in the Age of Social Media


Source: Carleton University


Everyday people make use of Instagram to visually share their experiences encountering Holocaust memory. Whether individuals are sharing their photos from Auschwitz, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, this dissertation uncovers the impetus to capture and share these images by the thousands. Using visuality as a framework for analyzing how the Holocaust has been seen, photographed, and communicated historically, this dissertation argues that these individual digital images function as objects of postmemory, contributing to and cultivating an accessible visual and digital archive. Sharing these images on Instagram results in a visual, grassroots archival space where networked Holocaust visuality and memory can flourish.

The Holocaust looms large in public memory. Drawing from Holocaust studies, public history, photography theory, and new media studies, this dissertation argues that the amateur Instagram image is far from static. Existing spaces of Holocaust memory create preconditions for everyday publics to share their encounters with the Holocaust on their own terms. Thus, the final networked Instagram image is the product of a series of author interventions, carefully wrought from competing narratives and Holocaust representations. The choice to photograph, edit, post, and hashtag one’s photo forges a public method for collaborating with hegemonic memory institutions. This work brings together seemingly disparate sources to find commonality between Instagram images, museum guestbook entries, online reviews, former concentration camps, and major Holocaust memorials and museums.

This research, one of the first studies of Holocaust visual culture on Instagram, underscores the fluidity of Holocaust memory in the twenty-first century. While amateur photography at solemn sites has sparked concern, this dissertation demonstrates that though the number of Holocaust survivors become fewer in number, the act of remembering the genocide can be coded into the everyday behaviour of the amateur photographers featured in this work. This work not only shares authority with everyday publics in their efforts to remember and memorialize the Holocaust but reminds us that seemingly small and individual acts of remembrance can coalesce, contributing to a fluid and accessible archive of visual memory.

Updated: Jul. 17, 2019