Local History Research in and by the Community

Over the past year, members of the Ambrose University history program have been working on a local history research project: “Placing Memory in High River’s Built Environment.” The project explores the connections between physical places and the sense of community identity and collective memory in the town of High River. It’s been a great opportunity for our Ambrose history students to get hands-on experience with real world research, as they have traveled to High River to interview members of the community. Now, back at Ambrose, they’re working together to interpret the interview transcripts, looking for historical themes and key places in High River.

Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer at the Museum of the Highwood, High River.
Ambrose history students interviewing a local volunteer in High River.

One of the exciting parts of the project has been working with our partners. The Museum of the Highwood has supported us with background information, archival photos, and other research resources. The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation has funded our project to the tune of almost $12000. And the High River Library has given us meeting space and promotion in the community. Once we’re done the project, we’ll deposit the digital audio files of our oral history interviews with the Museum of the Highwood, to replenish their supply of oral history material that was lost in the flood of 2013. Continue reading

The Challenges of Memorialization

As I holiday in Berlin this week, my mind is still pre-occupied with the topic of memorialization. Berlin is like that–on virtually every corner (and this is only a slight exaggeration) there is some aspect of memorialization going on, from the thousands of “stumbling stones” marking the homes of Jews victimized by the Hitler regime to signs at U-Bahn stations, plaques in parks, statues on shopping streets, and preserved ruins thrown in for good measure. Memorialization is everywhere in Berlin.

But yesterday, as we rode around the city on bicycles, enjoying the cool, dark beauty of the Tiergarten and the serene  majesty of the Gendarmemarkt, I encountered two cases of memorialization which disturbed me greatly. Continue reading

Encountering the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum

My main reason for being in Berlin this past week has been to work on some new research relating to genocide, memory, and place. The roots of the project are in my own questions about the power of places like concentration camp sites–the scenes of so much suffering, death, and evil–and in my search for richer language with which to describe and assess genocide in the classroom, for students who are responding intellectually, but also morally and emotionally, to what they’re learning.

imageSo off I went to the site of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, along with my dear wife Colleen, who periodically pays a price for being married to a historian of Nazism and genocide. In terms of my project on “Evil Places as Sacred Spaces,” what I’m trying to understand is the layers of meaning at a place like Sachsenhausen, through an understanding of the events, landscape, ruins, memories, memorials, rituals, emotions, and the ways people make and/or consider the space to be sacred in some way or other.

During our visit on Friday, I took all kinds of field notes about the impressions the camp made on me, Continue reading

New Research on Genocide, Memory, and Place

Yesterday I spent the day at the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, at the site of the one-time Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin. I was there with my dear wife Colleen, who earned high spousal merit points for exposing her sensitive soul to the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s police state. More on that experience tomorrow, but for now I want to tell you why we went. In short, I was there “for work,” since I’m fleshing out a book chapter on “The Memory of Genocide: Evil Places as Sacred Spaces,” and want to use Sachsenhausen as a test case for my ideas. Continue reading

The (Comical) Unpredictability of Archival Research

archival files, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Herne_Stadtarchiv_alte_Akten.jpg.

I’m in Berlin this week, working on a couple of research projects–some tying up loose ends and some launching into new work. The tying up of loose ends is proving to be rather more difficult than I had hoped, but it’s a good lesson in the unpredictability of archival research, both for good and for bad.

The project in question began some years ago as a serendipitous discovery in an archival file I was combing through in the Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin. I stumbled upon some correspondence about a pastor in Berlin who had started this Protestant-Nazi group, Continue reading

Jews and Christians Remembering the Holocaust Together

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of participating in teaching and research workshops on various aspects of the Holocaust, together with Jews, other Christians, and non-religious academics. While some of these gatherings have included commemorative or reflective elements, only recently was I privileged to attend–and speak at–a Holocaust remembrance service. I was invited by the organizers of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Service sponsored by the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. My role was to add some historically-based comments that would serve as a kind of conclusion to the rest of the program, which included music, readings, silence, and other ceremonial elements.

For documentation of the quotations in the address or for more information from my research into the history of North American religious responses to the Kristallnacht pogrom, please refer to the following publications:

Kyle Jantzen, “‘The Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man’: Mainline American Protestants and the Kristallnacht Pogrom.” In American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht, edited by Maria Mazzenga, 31-55. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Kyle Jantzen and Jonathan Durance, “Our Jewish Brethren: Christian Responses to Kristallnacht in Canadian Mass Media.” Crisis and Credibility in the Jewish-Christian World: Remembering Franklin Littel. The Fortieth Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches. Spec. issue of Journal of Ecumenical Studies 46 no. 4 (Fall 2011): 537-548.

Here is the text of my address:

Response: Holocaust Remembrance Service, First Alliance Church, Calgary, AB, April 15, 2012, Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University

Tonight, we have all set aside some time to come together—Jews and Christians—in order to reflect upon the events and impact of the Holocaust. We have heard the stories of Christians Corrie Ten Boom and Maximilian Kolbe, reminding us Continue reading