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Memories Crowdsourced at U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

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This was co-written by Alan W. Silberberg and Julianne Shinto

The word memory evokes many things, different for each of us. In the digital age, memory has a double meaning, sometimes even more. There is cultural memory, there is institutional memory and then there is the collective global memory of humanity. Technology has given us ways to absorb more information, which in turn creates new avenues of memories, and imbues old memories with new context. What if your personal history or that of your family member's went missing? Maybe it was even stolen from you through some horrific event of the past like the Holocaust?

Older generations can now join younger generations in utilizing the latest technology to keep the time-honored tradition of storytelling as a basis for the collective history of humankind. This is a unique time in that the technology exists to help capture and expand on the stories that every generation can tell. Digital story capture and online archiving stand to create and allow a reflective, contextual and factual history against some of the internet falsehoods.

Exemplifying this contemporary medium, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ancestry.com have partnered to create the "World Memory Project." This is a historic, one-of-a-kind crowdsourced endeavor that allows people to index documents from the Museum's archival collection to create the world's largest online resource about victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution. As the collections are completed, they will become searchable online for free. Nazis tried to erase millions of individuals from history; this project is about helping to restore their identities and helping survivors and their families discover missing relatives and facts before it is too late.

The World Memory Project combines high technology and the human experience in a bid to restore context and information to a history missing such. It is a fascinating example of what can be done through public/private partnerships. By allowing people to both search and add stories, context and personal histories to complete the full picture of this time period and the dramatic loss and suffering of millions, it allows for the creation of a semantic and multilevel contextual field of understanding. It allows people whose names have been silent for so long to be reunited with the collective global memory of humanity.

While there are many resources about the Holocaust online, there is also an ongoing wave of propaganda from those who wish to deny the Holocaust and effectively rewrite history. As a result, the timing of the launch of this website from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ancestry.com could not be better. An unintended consequence of such a crowdsourced website will be a way for historians to accurately use these tools to debunk falsehoods, historical misstatements and conspiracy theories. As we rush headlong into a society where our collective memory is immersed in the digital pool, it becomes ever more critical for the truth to be told, and recognized as the truth.

Julianne Shinto is CEO of Imprimatur, a leading Political Branding and Ethics advisory firm as well as the co-founder of Twain Group. Follow her on Twitter: @julianneshinto.