Do you want to go to a museum on the computer?
More and more cultural institutions are going online, and after the Covid-19 lockdowns, the EU wants to make our common cultural heritage more digitally accessible to the many who cannot visit the sites physically. At SDU computer scientist Stefan Jänicke is finding new digital ways to communicate cultural heritage for example with the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
On April 15, 1945, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated. 120,000 people have been captured here and at least 52,000 have died. Today, the camp - like a number of others - is open to visitors who travel to the city of Bergen near Celle in northern Germany.
The camp should be even more accessible, says Stefan Jänicke, an expert in visualizing data. He is interested in finding new, digital ways of communicating our common cultural heritage, and he is working on developing a concept for computer models and tools that make it possible to explore concentration camps digitally. This is done with support from the Danish Ministry of Education and Research, and he uses the Bergen-Belsen camp as a case.
Multiple layers in the digital experience
- It is not so important that Bergen-Belsen is the example that I mention here. The important thing is that we can continue to visit these camps. Nothing can compete with being there yourself, and physical visits should always be an option, but there are really many people who never get the opportunity to visit a concentration camp, he says.
Therefore, making them available in a digital universe is of great value.
- There are two major benefits: First, the many people who cannot physically visit the place get the opportunity. Secondly, we can offer much more to the digital visitor than can be experienced during a physical visit, says Stefan Jänicke.
We can offer much more to the digital visitor than can be experiences during a physical visit.
The already well-known methods, such as "walking around" using the computer cursor or clicking on something and a text pops up, are obvious features, but digital exploration can be more than that, he points out
Stefan Jänicke gives these examples, which he thinks will be obvious to use in a case like Bergen-Belsen:
- During virtual visits, you can receive individualized information on life in concentration camps, for example through digitized diary entries by prisoners with a similar profile (age, gender, etc).
- Bergen-Belsen was part of a huge network, where the Nazis exchanged information about transports, new camps, etc. From those archives you as a digital visitor can get relevant material.
- During your digital visit, you can choose to focus on special themes. Eg. food, and then you will have access to eg diary passages where prisoners write about food. Another example could be "new arrivals", and then you get access to the Germans' data on the train transports that arrived at the camp.
- You can visit different versions of the same place. Almost all historic buildings have changed over time, and with computer models, a digital guest can visit different versions of the same place.
Meet the researcher
Stefan Jänicke is an associate professor at the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. He is a computer scientist and occupied by building bridges between computer science and other sciences in the humanities, linguistics, biology and social sciences.
Visualization of Denmark's cultural heritage
Stefan Jänicke has also worked on visualizing data on the Danish cultural heritage, e.g. on gender differences, HC Andersen and Kierkegaard. You can read more about this in this article in Aktuel Naturvidenskab. (Danish only).
Terezin in the Czech Republic was both a concentration camp and a ghetto during World War II. Today, the place can be visited both physically and digitally.