Dr. Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, came to share with Cohort V earlier this month. Dr. Michman is also the authority on Holocaust Historiography. If you’re interested in more on this topic you can read his book: Holocaust Historiography: A Jewish Perspective. His seminar included three topics. I will post three blogs covering the seminar, so stay tuned.
The first topic Dr. Michman discussed was an introduction to Historiography and Holocaust Historiography. Historiography is the analysis of history. He explained the concept with the diagram below:
In other words the historian works with documents or remains from the past, the true event, and the product is a historiography. The product the historian produces does not equal the past, because the historian has added his own agenda and bias to the the documents they have read from the past. The historian may also have a leaning toward economic or political history, so he will exclude all other documents, and focus solely on a few specific documents. This gives only a small window into the past, but the whole picture is missing. The product of the historian will only ever relay a small part of the past.
When a historian sifts through a collection of data and selects documents it is called “colligation.” Dr. Michman compared this to making a necklace, he said some necklaces are made better than other necklaces. Likewise, some historians are better than others. Historians can argue about colligations, some say that Marxism invented Nationalism as a direct reaction. Others say Nationalism was a development of Colonialism.
Historians also argue about the documents they use. Can all of them be trusted? For example, can the German or perpetrator documents be completely trusted? Dr. Michman says no. They can be inflated to make themselves look better. They also use code words like “deportation,” and “immigration” for murder. While they are good resources to give a glimpse of the past they cannot depict the whole. For example, at the Eichmann trials he suggested conclusions about the Nazi regime that historians didn’t come to until the 1990’s but his words could not be trusted. He had lied more than he told the truth. The trials are still a good resource to analyze for a picture of the past but it can’t but utterly trusted.
Dr. Michman introduced the idea of history belonging to two different disciplines: Social Sciences and the Humanities. He said in some ways historians are social scientists in that they make a direct impact on modern people. Learning from history shapes our culture and future actions. But historians also belong to the humanities. We discover history, knowing history means we know humanity. There is a seeking and study of minute documents to arrive to conclusions about the past.
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