Geographies of Terror in Poland

I am now a participant in the group blog hist.net based in Switzerland. Before writing anything for the blog, I perused the entries for the past year and was particularly excited by several of them. The one I want to feature today is a post by Marcin Wilkowski about two websites based in Poland that are excellent examples collecting history in a digital environment and the use of GIS to display the material collected.

I have written about similar projects here in the United States in earlier posts. And, of course our September 11 Digital Archive and Hurricane Digital Memory Bank make liberal use of the same kinds of interfaces. But these two sites from Poland deserve special mention.

The first, Ĺšladami Zbrodni (Traces of the Crimes) is a project of the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland that invites the general public to populate the database with images and video of the secret prisons of the Communist regime, of the residences of Communist era officials, and other sites important to the narrative of the regime’s crimes against its own people. The second project, POLIN, has a similar interface, although this site is devoted to preserving the history of Poland’s Jewish community.

Of the two, the former works better as a historical resource–at least at the moment–because it is focused more on contemporary history. The places being cataloged in the Traces project need to be captured as they are now, before much more time passes. The images in the POLIN project, at least the portions I visited, are largely current images of those places. While these are quite useful–as for instance the image of the monument at Jedwabne–what I wanted more of was images from the history of Poland’s Jewish community. Visitors to the site are encouraged to upload such images–I just didn’t find any in my scanning around.

But it is early days for both of these projects. I suspect that as more and more people begin adding materials from their personal collections to the databases, their collections will get richer and richer. For an East European historian like me, they are excellent teaching resources already.