The workshop “Image – Archive – (Hi)Story: German Gazes upon East Central Europe” took place at the Herder Institute’s Image Archive on July 2, 2018.
It was organized with the aim of introducing students to the work and activities of a scientific collection and acquainting them with academic career paths outside of universities. It was attended by students from the International Graduate Center for the Study of Culture at the University of Gießen, and two graduate students from the University of Toronto currently interning at the Herder Institute.
The workshop combined presentations by the researchers and staff of the institute’s image archive and practical work that allowed the participants to get hands-on experience with processing and cataloging images for historical research. The director of the image archive, Dr. Dietmar Popp, welcomed the students to the archive and gave an overview of its holdings. This was followed by a visit to the scanners and digitalizing rooms where Claudia Junghänel, the resident professional photographer, explained the technical aspects involved in the digitization of images.
Her colleague Thomas Urban explained the structure and different functions of the image catalog. Agnese Bergholde and Sebastian Weiß demonstrated how to compose and edit the entries in the catalog. They presented postcards from the Rudolf Jaworski collection, which show nationalist motives from the late 19th and early 20th centuries from different Central European countries. The selected postcards demonstrated well the challenges of analyzing an image’s motives and generating keywords and descriptions for the catalog that facilitate access to the collection.
The participants also had the opportunity to take a closer look at part of the Treichel and Volhynia collections, which contain images depicting life in rural areas of modern-day Poland in the early to mid 20th century. Interacting with these images brought forward questions about the context under which the images were taken and what they were meant to portray.
These questions were answered in the keynote lecture “Daily life in Volhynia and Kashubia before 1945 – Photos by Germans between Staging and Authenticity” by Dr. Elke Bauer with which the workshop concluded. Dr. Bauer presented the history and context under which the images were collected. The Treichel Collection, for example, includes images from Kashubia in the 1900s that capture different, mostly staged photos of rural life and work, such as harvesting practices with the goal of documenting these practices for private use. The Volhynia collection, for its part, contains pictures taken during a research trip to German settlements in Volhynia (modern-day southeastern Poland) in order to help disseminating research on Germans outside of Germany, and particularly to help illustrate cultural differences between these Germans and other neighboring populations in the area.
It is important to note that while the pictures in the second collection look in part spontaneous and for private use too, they were staged and used for propaganda reasons in contemporary publications. With this, Dr. Bauer pointed out at one of the main challenges in using photographs as sources when conducting historical research and on the importance of understanding the context under which these photographs were produced.
Having worked at the image archive, the workshop was a very instructive experience to learn more about all the steps and background research required for a particular image to be accessible to researchers.