Have you ever wondered how history itself is made? Though we often talk about individuals and groups “making history” by making certain types of contributions to society, less frequently do we talk about the complex process through which historians construct their accounts of the past. During American Archives Month this October, we have a chance to explore the central role of archives in shaping our perceptions of the past, the various forces that determine the materials and voices included in a given archive, and how this insight can enrich the way we think about historical materials and even produce our own.
During Genocide Awareness Month this April, we would like to draw educators' and parents' attention to Facing History’s rich array of teaching resources on genocide. But we also invite you to deepen your own learning with these 7 brand new titles written by scholars and memoirists grappling with the nature of genocide, its impacts on people around the world, and the acts of resistance and humanity that persist amid horrific circumstances. These books range in format from survivor testimony and multigenerational biography, to accounts of historical upstanders and scholarly analysis of how we represent and teach about genocide itself.
In a recent interview, I had the opportunity to speak with filmmaker Roberta Grossman—director of the acclaimed documentary film Who Will Write Our History? The film tells the remarkable true story of the Oyneg Shabes, a clandestine archival organization that formed in the Warsaw Ghetto to narrate the unfolding events from a Jewish perspective, as well as capture the richness of Jewish cultural life and agency that persisted in the face of the Nazi German occupation. The resulting archive includes a rich array of essays, diaries, drawings, posters, paintings, poetry, and underground newspapers. Here Grossman discusses the film’s development and reception, the power of eyewitness testimony, and the implications of the Oyneg Shabes Archive for how we teach and understand history.
On January 27, we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. First designated by the United Nations in 2005, this commemoration coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. Around the world, people will gather at sites of memory, listen as survivors share their harrowing stories, and honor victims. Like many commemorations, International Holocaust Remembrance Day looks simultaneously backwards and forwards, linking memory of the past with a mandate to educate and a call to conscience in the present.
For the month of April, a large banner draped over the Bay Bridge draws the attention of 250,000 drivers to the Armenian Genocide each day. On my commute to work, I asked two passengers in my rideshare if they knew about the Armenian Genocide. Aside from stating that a genocide happened in 1915, neither could tell me what happened, who the Armenians were, or where Armenia is located.
Marshall Curry’s short film, A Night at the Garden, forces an American public to reckon with the horrific reality of its own antisemitism. Nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Short Subject category, the seven-minute, black and white film is comprised entirely of archival footage. Without any of the narration or explanation common to historical documentaries, the film demands one’s full attention, transporting its viewer to a world at once distantly dystopian and hauntingly familiar. It is February 20th, 1939. The Madison Square Garden marquee reads: “Tonight Pro American Rally.” There will be hockey on Tuesday, basketball on Wednesday. It could be a New York night like any other.
In February 1968, Thomas “T.O.” Jones led 1,300 black sanitation workers in a citywide strike against Memphis’ abusive treatment of its black employees. Facing History is honoring Jones and 13 other Memphians who chose to confront injustice and defy indifference through our Upstanders Mural. This commnity-driven public art display is located across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum and steps away from where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
We spoke with Dory Lerner, Museum Educator at the National Civil Rights Museum and a Facing History volunteer, about the importance of the mural in the community and how the stories of these Upstanders can be blueprints for changemakers today.
A few years ago, a book came into my possession that has been tossed around in my family like a hot potato for several generations.
Entitled, Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of Southern Churches, the book's author was James McNeilly, a Presbyterian minister and Confederate veteran from Nashville, Tennessee. Inside the front cover is an inscription from the author to my great-great-great-grandmother.
"To Corinne Lawrence: A tried and true friend of many years—and a devoted lover of the Old South, which I have tried to vindicate."
Friday January 27—the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated—is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day calls for people around the world to remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust—those who perished and those who survived to tell their story. Read how one survivor found healing through the Facing History students who listened to her after years of staying silent.
December 13, 1937 is a day etched in the collective Chinese consciousness. On that day, the Japanese imperial army marched into the city of Nanjing—then the capital of China—and unleashed a wave of violence for six long weeks. The soldiers attacked ordinary citizens and violated all acceptable international norms of war. This act of mass violence marked the beginning of World War II in Asia. It is difficult to mark the anniversary of this dark chapter today without reflecting on contemporary global events reminding us all of the fragility of peace and democracy.