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Project Proposal for Digital History class

February 16, 2013

For those gentle readers that have been reading this blog since I started it in 2009, this proposal might be interesting to them. As they are aware, I have been interested in the history of corporations in Nazi Germany for quite some time; and as such, I have investigated many sources of information on the topic. I have visited various archives, such as the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential library in Hyde Park, NY. I have looked at the Thomas McKittrick and Henry Villard papers at Harvard Business school. I have spent time working in various record groups in the National Archives (NARA).

In much of my work, in both dealing with primary and secondary sources, the subject of the Holocaust was essential, if not unavoidable. There is such a huge body of material on this topic, that the ability to discern what might or might not be useful is, in itself, one of the major challenges of being a researcher who studies this field. In addition, new sources of information are emerging on a regular basis, which only deepens and complicates an already difficult and emotionally charged subject matter.

This is the case for the Bad Arolsen digital archives, put together by the International Tracing Service (ITS) http://www.its-arolsen.org/en/archives/index.html. This was a multi-year project that I became aware of in the early part of the last decade, when ITS embarked on a mission to digitize and make available something like 30 million documents located in a major collection of Nazi-era documents housed in the town of the same name, Bad Arolsen. These documents can and do have the potential to serve a multitude of purposes: They have been used by Holocaust survivors and their decedents to find out what happened to their family members; they have been used by scholars to track the events of the Holocaust; and they have been used to learn about how Germany transitioned into the post-war era.

For my part, this collection could have significant value for my own research interests. A good portion of the materials involve the use of forced labor, much of which was provided directly to private business for various aspects of the Third Reich’s war efforts. This includes everything from building vehicles and munitions, to supporting research and development efforts, logistics, providing labor for institutions producing medicine and fuel, etc. Utilizing the finding aid, there are references to corporations I have specifically studied and written about here on this blog: The subsidiaries of Ford (Ford-Werke) and General Motors (Opel) have entries in the Bad Arolsen files.

Therefore, I propose a deeper perusal of materials in this collection in order to produce at least a rough accounting of the materials that might be useful for further study on the topic of forced labor and corporations, particularly ones that had parent companies overseas in the U.S. In order to have access to the collection, one must fill out a research request, much like ones I have encountered at Harvard Business School and elsewhere. I have already submitted one a couple of weeks ago and am hoping to be able to start perusing their collection soon. Perhaps then we can begin to deepen and complicate the story of corporate complicity with Nazi Germany with fresh source material.

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One Comment
  1. Jason, I think the project has great potential, but I would like to see a more ambitious proposal than perusing and roughly accounting. I would like to see some effort at interpreting and presenting digitally. If that can;t be done, then you may want to choose a topic where you feel able to do so.

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