Laura Harcombe, MA Holocaust and Genocide Studies
“I believe this activity has benefitted me by giving me the experience to network and work alongside those already credited within the field I am hoping to enter.”
I attended the three-day ‘Dark Tourism Sites related to the Holocaust, the Nazi Past and World War II: Visitation and Practice Conference’ at Caledonian University. The conference was aimed at curators, researchers, academics who are involved and interested in history, museum management, the Holocaust and Holocaust education. This meant that there were many people from different places and various institutions
Alongside different panels and lectures each day, there was also time for discussion and debates. These discussions included the implications museums face to commemorate the Holocaust in an appropriate way and how visitors interact with these sites. Discussions also included how these dark historical sites can be considered authentic, conserved and interpreted, whilst educating the visitor at the same time.
What were your main achievements?
I believe my main achievement was finding out about the conference, as it had not been advertised well. It was when I read about it in the Times Newspaper that I contacted my supervisor, Dr Isabel Wollaston, who was not aware of the conference, which is surprising as she is a leading academic in the field of Holocaust History. It was then that Dr Wollaston suggested I contact the University about securing some funding to help me attend the conference.
Once at the conference, I believe my main achievements include the vast amount of information, notes and knowledge I obtained from the lectures and discussion, as I used a lot of this research within my dissertation. Similarly, finding the confidence to network and introduce myself to people I have admired for many years is something I am particularly proud of, especially those that I have read and referenced throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Since the conference, I have been in contact with Imogen Dalziel, a PhD student who gave a lecture at the conference. Imogen is someone who has been incredibly influential to my research, has sent me her own research to use and we have subsequently met up to discuss future opportunities within Holocaust education.
What did you enjoy the most?
The aspect I most enjoyed was being able to experience an academic conference for the first time, to meet like-minded people, to hear their opinions and ideas about Holocaust memorialisation, something I have followed and focused on throughout my academic career. I particularly enjoyed being able to debate and discuss aspects of Holocaust commemoration at sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, which has been extremely insightful to my Masters Dissertation. One of the main positives for me was being surrounded by people who are also dedicated to Holocaust historiography, something I have not really experienced throughout my time at university.
I also enjoyed meeting people a similar age to me, who are also aspiring to secure careers in Holocaust research and education. Likewise, I particularly enjoyed listening to lectures delivered from academics who I have admired for many years. I thought the conference was set out very well, with the leaders understanding that the subject matter was often distressing or harrowing - this meant that we were able to have tea and coffee breaks and reflect on the importance of Holocaust memorialisation and the research surrounding it. This informality meant that I was able to approach them in the breaks to introduce myself and communicate with them on a more personal level.
What were the hardest aspects?
One of the hardest aspects for me was travelling alone to Glasgow - somewhere I had never been before and was not familiar with. Fortunately the conference organisers were very clear and approachable with their instructions of how to find the campus and the building in which the conference was held.
Another hard aspect for me was feeling overwhelmed and underqualified to attend this conference as many of the attendees and lecturers have been experts in their fields for many years, whilst I felt I was limited to the sort of discussion that takes place within a University seminar room. During the conference and lectures, I often felt that I was not confident enough to start a discussion or put forward my own opinion in front of the group, as I felt my opinions may not be valued in a room of Holocaust academics and specialists. However, as the conference was designed to be informal and very friendly, I quickly realised that anyone was welcome to speak, without fear of being corrected or disagreed with in an aggressive manner.
What skills have you developed?
I developed the skills to discuss my own thoughts and opinions in a confident manner, without worrying about my lack of experience within the academic field of Holocaust historiography. Indeed, I have grown in confidence by travelling and staying alone in an unknown city, whilst navigating my way around and feeling at ease whilst doing so. I also believe I have acquired the skills to present research findings with confidence, retaining information I have learnt over the past four years to construct a cohesive and strong argument which surrounds the topic I care so much about. I also developed the skills to network with likeminded people, securing contacts and staying in contact with them in the hope of securing work experience or even job opportunities in the future.
This conference also meant I was able to find new research for my dissertation, talk to those who had written the articles and find out a clear insight into their arguments behind research. Further, my dissertation was stronger in terms of research and variety as, without attending this conference, I would not have found many of the strongest arguments that structured of my dissertation.
How do you think your experience will benefit you in the future?
It has provided me with contacts that I can call upon, when asking for help or guidance in securing a career in Holocaust education or memorialisation. This activity will also benefit me in terms of understanding the path to becoming a Holocaust academic, by speaking to those who inspired me at the conference. Similarly, I believe this activity has benefitted me by giving me the experience to network and work alongside those already credited within the field I am hoping to enter.
Thank you to donors
I would like to thank the alumni and donors of the University of Birmingham who made it possible for me to attend this conference, which was instrumental to the research of my Masters and subsequently my dissertation. I would not have been able to attend or travel to Glasgow without the funding, and I am truly grateful. By attending this conference, I was able to build up a strong network of contacts in the academic field I endeavour to enter on the completion of my MA, alongside building a strong plethora of research I was able to carry through to become the backbone of my arguments within my dissertation chapters.
With grateful thanks to the alumni donors who made the PGT Professional Development Bursary possible.