Victoria Bishop Kendzia, Berlin, June 2020
Author of VISITORS TO THE HOUSE OF MEMORY
I thought it might be helpful to future readers to share my impressions of an online lecture and discussion I was invited to give and moderate recently.
It was part of a class and the Frei Universität Berlin. Most of the students were in public history, some in Jewish Studies. The instructor mentioned having come across Visitors sort of by accident and was happy to have done so.
She then assigned the final concluding chapter to her students. This chapter is trying to find a way toward a more inclusive culture of memory: one that does not marginalize Berliners of non-German background and/or stigmatize Muslims in Germany, especially, as not belonging to the national community. The research situations exposed that they were all too often seen as not being part of the conversation on this topic were even cast as a threat to it, in the form of being the new (and only?) anti-Semites.
What she found most compelling in the book were two things:
- The grounded methodology in which I clearly position myself within the research. I did and do not claim to be a disinterested “fly on the wall” when it comes to the collection of the material. This transparency is key to bringing the readers into the museum and fostering empathy between them, myself, and most importantly, the participants in the study. All too often in research, the methodological lie of being somehow completely unbiased and free of pre-existing ideas and assumptions is told in a misguided attempt to appear objective. I argued that no one is ever not positioned. It is, therefore, crucial to first be aware of this and then to reflect on how this might co-constitute the material one collects and the conclusions one draws.
Only then, is the research truly transparent. Objectivity, to the degree that it is possible, is achieved through systematic collection and analyses, which are then challenged and checked (not only with other scholars working on similar topics) but also, and arguably even more importantly, with the participants in the study itself. This transparency, in turn, allows the readers to know where the research and researcher is coming from and judge the conclusions for themselves.
- Another point the instructor mentioned was that this book is about what actually happens on the ground in the museum, in the schools and beyond over time and focusses on understanding the situations as they occur. This, in turn, exposes the complexity of visiting behaviours and the various interactions in and around the museum.
It is not accident, I believe, that the instructor chose the final chapter for her class. It is here that everything comes together. Indeed, the book has a gradual build up toward the most problematic issues that emerged during the research process. I have kept it this way deliberately, as this is how I, myself, experienced it. I very much wanted and want the readers to join me along this path from my first steps in the museum and contact in the schools to the difficulties encountered along the way to the critical, but not jaded, view I finally came to adopt.
The discussion with the students in this Frei Universität class was quite heartening as the main concern was how to mitigate against the mechanisms of exclusion made visible in the book. I found this especially encouraging as it is very likely that students such as those who took part in this discussion make up the present and future carriers and narrators of this memory.
Victoria Bishop Kendzia is a teaching fellow at Humboldt University, Berlin. Her publications include “‘Jewish’ Ethnic Options in Germany between Attribution and Choice: Auto-Ethnographical Reflections at the Jewish Museum Berlin” in the Anthropological Journal of European Cultures. She completed her doctorate at Humboldt’s Institute of European Ethnology.
VISITORS TO THE HOUSE OF MEMORY
Identity and Political Education at the Jewish Museum Berlin
Victoria Bishop Kendzia
Vol. 9, MUSEUMS AND COLLECTIONS
“Provides an inspiring approach at a time when generational and societal changes call for the emendation of well-established patterns of memory and remembrance.” • German Studies Review
As one of the most visited museums in Germany’s capital city, the Jewish Museum Berlin is a key site for understanding not only German-Jewish history, but also German identity in an era of unprecedented ethnic and religious diversity. Visitors to the House of Memory is an intimate exploration of how young Berliners experience the Museum. How do modern students relate to the museum’s evocative architecture, its cultural-political context, and its narrative of Jewish history? By accompanying a range of high school history students before, during, and after their visits to the museum, this book offers an illuminating exploration of political education, affect, remembrance, and belonging.