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Deakin and UniSyd research project examines Holocaust education in Australia

Deakin and UniSyd research project examines Holocaust education in Australia

Deakin University has teamed up with the University of Sydney to lead a first-of-its kind study into the long-term effectiveness of Holocaust education programs in Australia.

The project is led by the University of Sydney in partnership with the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM), the Melbourne Holocaust Museum (MHM) and the Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Andrew Steiner Education Centre (AHMSEC).

Holocaust expert and project lead Associate Professor Avril Alba of the University of Sydney said the project will investigate if – and how – learning about difficult pasts contributes to a change in attitudes and actions among individuals and the broader community.

The research comes on the back of a disturbing rise in anti- Semitic sentiment globally and a noticeable rise in the number of students attending education programs at Holocaust museums nationally.

Associate Professor Alba said:

“Given the rise of racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia and extremism, both in Australia and abroad, a key goal of the research is to chart and measure whether, and to what extent, Holocaust education programs empower students to make informed connections between historical events and contemporary issues such as human rights and racism”

Associate Professor Steven Cooke (ADI) said determining the longer-term impact of visiting cultural heritage sites such as museums was difficult.

This is because traditional research methods such as questionnaires and interviews do not capture multi-sensorial engagement or how visitors move around the museum, including where they linger and what held their attention.

But he said the project team, which includes the three museums and the University of Technology Sydney, would use an innovative Visual Research Methodology (VRM) he developed to better track visitor engagement. A pilot he ran with Dr Donna-Lee Frieze, also of Deakin, and high school students at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum found the approach a valuable tool for self-reflection.

Associate Professor Cooke said:

“This project will use an innovative type of Visual Research Methodology I developed that involves participants wearing a pair of audio-visual recording glasses that document their journey around the museum or heritage site. This footage is then viewed by the researchers with the participants, who use the recording to describe their observations and reflections of the site and what they had seen”

Associate Professor Alba, the Deakin team and colleagues will evaluate both the immediate and long-term impact of these forms of testimony. The project will provide an Australian contribution to a growing international area of research by generating insights about the Holocaust, genocide and human rights education that may benefit similar institutions worldwide.

Kevin Sumption, CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum, said:

“Each year, over 30,000 students visit the Sydney Jewish Museum to learn about the history of the Holocaust, and the dangers of racism and discrimination.”

“While we have a lot of data about the immediate impact these programs are having on students, we don’t have visibility of how our programs are impacting the values, beliefs and actions of young people – our future active citizens – for the long term. 

“This new collaborative inquiry with the University of Sydney, Deakin University, University of Technology Sydney and the Melbourne and Adelaide Holocaust museums will deliver important insights that can then be used to improve our programs, so we can make the most far-reaching and long-lasting contribution possible to the human rights landscape of Australia.” 

The research team were awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to the value of $566,499.


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