There are many ways and means of finding sources. Even though I should be just in the writing stages by now, I’m still finding sources to add to my collection. I was reading in Pierre Bleton’s book “Das Leben ist schön!” (no relation to the film of the same name, this book came out first), and a footnote here and there got me off on a web search for things. I don’t know why I have not searched the USHMM catalog until now, but it proved useful. I already knew of the three or four books that come up with a search for “Porta Westfalica”, but the 76 survivor interviews were a new find. I have transcripts from about 25 survivors that I found in the Neuengamme archive. Only one of those is listed in the results from USHMM. That gives me 100 survivor accounts. Of the estimated 3,000 prisoners in four camps at Barkhausen, Hausberge, and Lerbeck/Neesen, that gives me a view of 3% of the prisoners. Further looking into the records of the interviews, showed that not all of them were in English; some were in Danish, Hungarian, Hebrew, and Slovak. Of the 76 listed, only 45 were in English. So that gives me a total of 70 survivor interviews to use for my dissertation. I’ll have to compile some data points to draw up some graphs and what not (maps, info-charts, etc) about the survivors, and see what that can tell me. I also need to find some time to go down to the USHMM so I can view the interviews which are provided by the USC Shoah Foundation and only viewable from select locations.
I have finally decided which tunnel to focus on for the dissertation. After finally getting up the nerve, I called Dr. Wagner at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial to ask his opinion on which tunnel to focus on. He graciously and patiently listened to my bumbling German and suggested I focus on the tunnel sites at Porta Westfalica.
Herein enters the difference that new media provides in researching a topic. What’s the first thing I do? Search on Google, of course. I found a few interesting sources right off the bat, and after digging deeper, even more surfaced.
I searched for ‘Porta Westfalica Ambi-Budd’ because Ambi-Budd was the business assigned to the tunnels at Porta Westfalica. I got some interesting results:
As you can see, there are hundreds of web pages out there with those three terms on them (including this one).
Here are some of the more interesting links I found.
I’ll make sure to go to the Neuengamme archive and memorial site this summer.
The following links could provide connections to sources, but also will be a source in and of themselves. I want to write about what has happened since 1945 with this tunnel, and it looks like a lot of “online” things have been happening. This shows that these tunnels are still of interest today. Why? Well, that’s what I’ll write about in the dissertation.
There are many more. I sure do have my work cut out for me.
(I cheated on the featured image. I started this post in March, and finished it in July, after I visited Neuengamme and Porta Westfalica.)
Part of my dissertation methodology is to try to use collaboration to provide an increase in usable sources. To accomplish this, I have set up the Omeka archive with the wonderful Scripto tool. This tool marries an Omeka install with a MediaWiki install to provide a nice way to be able to view images in the archive in order to transcribe and translate them. This post shows the process for transcribing a document/image.
First, go to the archive page: http://nazitunnels.org/archive/
Next, you’ll want to search for a particular file, or browse by item or collection. The search function is a bit limited at the time. It only searches for text in the titles, tags, and existing descriptions. It doesn’t search for already transcribed text.
Once you find an item to transcribe, click on the image or title to go to that item’s page. On that page, near the bottom, you will see a link to transcribe the item. Go ahead and click on that.
Now you are on the transcription page. Next you will need to log in. (If you would like to help transcribe and/or translate, send me an email, or comment on this post, and I can set you up with an account. And thank you in advance!)
Once logged in, the page will be a little bit different.
Find the ‘edit’ link to start transcribing the image.
Notice the tools available for the image. (Move the mouse cursor over the image if you do not see them at first.)
Blue: You can zoom in and move the image around to get a better view of the text.
Red: Enter the transcribed text in the box. When done, click the ‘Edit transcription’ button.
Green: Only transcribed text should go in the transcription box, use the discussion page to enter comments about the item and ask questions.
Yellow: When you are done transcribing, and have clicked the ‘Edit transcription’ button, you can log out.
There is more to transcribing that just typing out what you see. Sometimes it is hard to even know what you are looking at. Here are some guidelines and policies for transcribing the documents here.
Policy (taken from the US National Archives and Records Administration website)
- NaziTunnels.org reserve the right to remove content or comments that contain abusive, vulgar, offensive, threatening or harassing language; personal attacks of any kind; or offensive terms that target specific individuals or groups.
- NaziTunnels.org will remove content or comments that are clearly off-topic, that promote services or products, or that promote or oppose any political party, person campaigning for elected office, or any ballot proposition.
- The content of all transcriptions and comments are visible to the public, thus submissions should not contain anything you do not wish to broadcast to the general public.
- If you provide personally identifiable information such as social security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers in the comments, it will be removed by the moderator. However, if a document itself contains archival or historical personally identifiable information, please transcribe it.
- NaziTunnels.org do not discriminate against any views, but reserves the right not to post content or comments that do not adhere to these standards.
- By contributing to the NaziTunnels.org you accept that other users may edit, alter, or remove your contribution.
- By transcribing or translating a document, you agree that you will not assert or retain any intellectual property rights, including copyright in the translation or transcription.
- If you think any of the information in the NaziTunnels.org Archive is subject to a valid copyright claim, please contact me using the Q & A page.
- When transcribing records, you should make a good faith effort to accurately represent the information contained in the record. If a document or record is not legible in some parts, please indicate with “[illegible].” Please consult the Transcription Tips at NARA for more information.
Below is a handy list of links to help with transcribing German handwriting and transcribing in general
NARA FAQ: http://transcribe.archives.gov/faq
NARA Tips for Transcribing: http://transcribe.archives.gov/tips
Tips for reading old handwriting: http://www.genealogy.com/76_reading.html
German Script Tutorial from BYU: http://script.byu.edu/german/en/welcome.aspx
Three part lesson on reading German handwritten records, from Familysearch.org:
Reading Blackletters (Gothic German), just for fun, or in case:
Part of my dissertation is to create an online archive of the documents I find. Thanks to the Hist 698 Digital History Techne class I had with Fred Gibbs this semester, the technical work of this part of the dissertation is now done. I used Omeka with the Scripto plugin (which is really a bridge to a MediaWiki installation) for the archive, and an Exhibit from MIT’s Simile project for a quick and dirty display of data and a map plotting the location of several of the tunnel locations.
Also part of the course, is to give a brief presentation about the final project, which is taken from this post.
I had two goals for this course.
- Create an quick and easy way to display the location and information about some of the tunnel sites using a selection of documents.
- Create an online archive that would allow myself and others to transcribe and translate the documents.
I was to use the Exhibit tool to complete the first goal. Set up was a bit more difficult than planned. I had an Exhibit working for a different project, and was finally able to massage the data into a copy of that code, and integrate it into the website using a WordPress Template.
This allowed me to display the data in three different views. First is the map, as seen above. I was able to show the tunnels in the two different groups identified in the documents. The A projects were existing tunnels, caves, or mines that were to be retrofitted and improved before factories could be moved in. B projects were to be completely new underground spaces.
A third view shows all of the items separately, with all of the available data.
Ideally, this information would be stored in a Google Spreadsheet to make updating and adding a cinch, but I was not able to get that working, so the data is in a JSON file instead. It would also have been neat to pull the information from the archive. Perhaps that can be built later.
I also set up an Omeka install to host the images I had previously digitized from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I not only want an archive, but also a way to have others transcribe and translate the documents, so I installed the Scripto plugin which is dependent on a MediaWiki install as well.
The ability to transcribe and translate is also an integral part of my dissertation. I want to argue, and show that historical work can not and should not be done alone. One way to do this is to get help from the undergraduates in the German Language program here at George Mason University. The German Language director at GMU is all on board to have some of her upper level students take on translation as part of their course work. This not only helps me, but helps them learn German by looking at interesting historical documents (and hopefully get them interested in history), but also helps future researches to be able to search and find documents easier.
This was the hardest part of the course. I’m really good at creating digital stuff because that is what I do all day. But I’m a little rusty on the historical interpretation and asking questions. What also makes this hard is not knowing completely what data I have yet.
Part of the problem with coming up with good, probing questions, is that I haven’t had a lot of time to look at the documents to see what is there. Also, there is not much written on this topic, so I’m kind of figuring out the story as I go. It’s a lot easier to read secondary works and ask new questions, or ask old questions in different ways. But there are no questions yet, except what happened.
The bigger questions, in light of this course, should be about how does this technology that we learned help understand the history, or help generate new questions. Will displaying the data in different ways help me make connections and inspire ideas that I would not otherwise have made or thought? Do the digital tools allow me to process more data than I could do non-digitally?
Another stumbling block (or is it a building block, it’s all about perspective, right), comes from my recent trip to Germany for research. While there I met with Dr. Ulrich Herbert at the University of Freiburg. He’s somewhat of a scholar in the area of slave labor, and has kept up to date on the writings regarding the underground dispersal projects. His wise suggestion for my dissertation was to focus on a single tunnel site, rather than trying to write about the organization responsible for all of the dispersal projects. Such an undertaking would take a life time, he said. So now I need to focus on just one tunnel, rather than all of them. Fortunately, Dr. Herbert put me in contact with the Director of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial, Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner. With his help, I may be able to find a specific tunnel to focus on, and make my trip in July 2013 that much more profitable.
Pun intended, of course.
I found a really cool piece of software that will, I believe, be very helpful in writing the dissertation. It’s a Mac application called Scrivener. I found it while reading up on an influential digital historian’s blog, William Turkel. I like it because it organizes the writing process in the way I already think about it. I can write, or rearrange bits of text as if they were note cards, and so much more… I’ll let a few screen shots speak for themselves:
As you can see, I’ve been working on my outlines for the first two chapters. I was worried about integration with Zotero, but found this tip to be helpful. It’s a bit of a process, but sure beats doing all citations by hand.
Also, for an update, I have now applied to two big fellowships, USHMM and the GHI, with one more to go at the National Archives. I should hear back about the USHMM this month.
After that, it’s the big two, the Fulbright and the DAAD.
I have most of the documents scanned from USHMM. There are still a bunch of microfilms I should get digitized from the National Archives (or the originals from the German Archives). Now I just need to start going through them and translating and organizing. I’ll have a post on that later.
Above is a teaser of one of the documents. This detail shows the location of the proposed tunnels in relation to the town of Hadmersleben, in Germany. The different areas of the tunnel are labeled.