Goldfarb lecture looks at preserving Jewish history

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, professor of performance studies at  the Tisch School of the Arts and affiliated professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies, New York University, will be the featured speaker for the 2008 Goldfarb Lecture in Visual Arts in the Faculty of Fine Arts. She will give a public talk titled, "Creating the Museum of the History of Polish Jews: A Work in Progress", on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 11:30am in Room 005 Accolade West Building.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is currently leading the core exhibition development team for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. Her presentation will highlight the latest developments in the project, focusing on key museological issues such as narrative, media, scenography and voice. 

Right: Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

In the 60 years since the Holocaust and the decimation of once large and vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, sites of memory have proliferated. While memorials and historic sites related to the Holocaust continue to be the focus of travel by those interested in what happened to Europe’s Jews, Jewish museums also play an important role in communicating the history of Jews before, and since, the Holocaust. 

A fundamental dilemma for Jewish museums and historic sites is their relationship to contemporary European Jewish communities on the one hand, and to the overwhelming concern of Jewish tourists from the United States, Israel and elsewhere with Holocaust sites, on the other. Even as Holocaust memorials and museums continue to be created, there are efforts to not only remember those who died and how they died, but also to honour their memory by paying attention to how they lived and the civilization they created. The most ambitious recent examples include the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which is scheduled to open in Warsaw in 2011. 

Left: An artist’s rendering of The Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum will be built on  the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto and is being designed as a narrative multimedia museum.

Ninety per cent of Poland’s Jews perished under the Nazis. Not surprisingly, Jewish visitors to Poland today have generally confined their itinerary to sites related to the Holocaust. Dedicated to telling the story of the thousand-year Jewish civilization in Polish lands, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews will offer visitors an alternative itinerary: one that leads them through what has been described as Poland’s multicultural heritage.  

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s talk will explore the challenges of creating this multimedia narrative project – a museum that aims to be a portal and a forum – on the site of the historic Jewish neighborhood of Warsaw. Where will it take visitors, and what encounters will it engender? What impact will this museum have on the contemporary city of Warsaw?  

An internationally renowned interdisciplinary scholar, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has lectured worldwide on a wide range of topics including museums, Jewish history and identity, urbanism, popular and mass culture, ethnography, tourism, public space and visual culture. Her books include Image before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage; and The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (edited with Jonathan Karp). They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust, a book she wrote in collaboration with her father, was a finalist for the 2007 National Jewish Book Award. Her edited volume Writing a Modern Jewish History: Essays in Honor of Salo W. Baron recently won the 2006 National Jewish Book Award. She is the recipient of many honors, including resident fellowships at the Getty Research Institute and Hebrew University and the Guggenheim Fellowship.  

This is the fifth in a series of annual, free public lectures made possible through the support of Joan and Martin Goldfarb, longstanding benefactors of the Faculty of Fine Arts and York University.