Skip to main content

Dr Silke Arnold-De Simine

  • Overview

    Overview

    Biography

    My work is concerned with (trans-)media aesthetics and ethics, tracing the pathways and following the transnational flow of commemorative practices across a range of different media forms and contexts such as screen media, (digital) archives, museums and heritage sites. In that context I have developed a distinctive research agenda at the interfaces of Memory Studies, Museum Studies, Digital Media Studies, Visual Culture, Public History and Critical Heritage Studies.

    I am currently working on a book entitled Memory in 3D: Holograms and Digital Afterlives (to be published with Legenda, Oxford) that asks how we can understand memory practices that are distributed between digital platforms and human agents and how virtual reality and holographic simulations help to negotiate the relationship between (a)life(ness) and death, between the human and the non-human, the animate and the inanimate.

    As co-director of our research centre BIRMAC (Birkbeck Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture), I curated two theme strands each of which ran over three years, the first theme was ‘Ruin/s’ (2014-16) which explored ruin, ruins and ruination through ecological, architectural, social and cultural perspectives. The second theme strand was ‘Contested Histories, Challenging Memories’ (2017- 2021, in collaboration with the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism), aimed at developing new interdisciplinary ways of critical thinking about the use of immersive sounds and images in curatorial practice to imagine and speak of contested histories. It brought together academics and critics, artists, filmmakers and museum professionals to debate the innovative use of aural and visual installations — the reuse, recycling, appropriation and borrowing of archival sounds and images. My work as research director included developing and instigating collaborative initiatives and public engagement activities and of late knowledge exchange and co-operation with stakeholders has become integral to my methodologies that merge phenomenological approaches with reception studies and critical discourse analysis with practice-based research.

    My AHRC-funded research project Mediating Memory in the Museum was submitted as an impact case story in REF 2014 (Research Excellence Framework) and led my monograph Mediating Memory in the Museum: Trauma, Empathy, Nostalgia (Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies Series, 2013, paperback 2016). More recently, my co-edited volume Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory has been published with Bloomsbury (2018).

    Before joining Birkbeck in 2006, I taught at the University of Mannheim (Germany, 1997-2001; 2003-2006) and at the University of Cambridge (2001-2003).

     

    (Co-)Organiser of Conferences, Workshops and Exhibitions (since 2014)

    International Conference Staging Traumatic Histories through Immersive Technologies (7 June 2021; BIRMAC, Birkbeck - online). Third event in the Contested Histories, Challenging Memories series.

    Workshop Mobilising Memories through Mixed Reality (5 May 2021, BIRMAC, Birkbeck - online)

    International Conference Performativity of Images in the Public Sphere (11 June 2019, BIRMAC, Birkbeck – online). Second event of the Contested Histories, Challenging Memories series.

    Workshop, screening and panel discussion Digital Afterlives and Genealogy Industries (Birkbeck, 21 May 2019)

    International Conference Memories of the Future (IMLR, Senate House London, 29–30 March 2019)

    Symposium Curating Sound for Difficult Histories (Birkbeck, Arts Week, 15 May 2018). First event of the Contested Histories, Challenging Memories series.

    Postgraduate students workshop Framing the Object: Memory, Nation, Narrative in collaboration with Sabrina Ben Aouicha, Curator of the British Museum Exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation (16 October 2014 – 25 January 2015)

    Symposium The Redesign of the Imperial War Museum London: Memory and History Reconsidered (Senate House, University of London, 13 March 2015)

    International Conference Mobile and Mobilising Memories: the Centenary and its Effects on First World War Memory in Europe (Birkbeck, 21 February 2015)

    International Conference Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory and exhibition in the Peltz Gallery: ‘Family Ties: Reframing Memory (10–11 July 2014)

     

    Qualifications

    • Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Lifelong Learning, Birkbeck, 2006
    • PhD in Comparative Literature, Universität Mannheim, Germany , 1999
    • MA in German Literature, History of Art and Philosophy, Universität Karlsruhe, Germany, 1993

    Web profiles

    Administrative responsibilities

    • FMACS Learning and Teaching Officer, SATQEC Departmental Representative and Member of the Student Experience Working Group (since 2016)
    • FMACS Research Ethics Officer (since 2017)
    • Member of the FMACS Research Committee
    • Programme director for BA Media and Culture (2019-20); MA Film, TV and Screen Media (2016-18); BA Global Cinemas and Screen Studies (2015-16)

    Visiting posts

    • HRC Visiting Fellowship, ANU, Canberra, Australia, 06-2005 to 09-2005
    • Visiting Professor, University of Waterloo, Canada, 09-1999 to 12-1999

    Professional activities

    Past research networks and projects

    NordForsk Research Network New First World War Memories – Tectonics of Memory in Europe (2016/17)

    UK Representative for COST Action IS1203 (European Cooperation in Science and Technology): In Search of Transcultural Memory in Europe (2013–16)

    Member of the International Partnership and Mobility (IPM) Scheme Commemoration, New Audiences and Spaces of Memory in Latin America’s Southern Cone: Trans-cultural Dialogues in the Wake of Loss funded by the British Academy (2013/14)

    Member of the AHRC Research Network ‘Silence, Memory and Empathy in Museums and at Historic Sites’ (2012–2013)

    Professional memberships

    • Member of the Advisory Board Memory Studies Association

    • Member of the Advisory Board The Journal of Intangible Cultural Heritage

    • Member of the MSA Museums and Memory Working Group

    • Member of the Advisory Board for the Book series Museums and Narrative

    • Member of the Advisory Board for E.T.A. Hoffmann Yearbook

    • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

  • Research

    Research

    Research overview

    My research is situated at the intersection of memory studies, media studies and museum studies. It is concerned with dissonant and challenging heritage: the collective processes and practices of remembering and commemorating painful pasts, their media representations and their ethical, political, psychosocial and aesthetic implications. My current focus is on how remembering is enacted and performed in experiential encounters with the past, it traces the flow of practices of remembrance across different art forms, media outlets and institutions with a special interest in immersive and interactive digital media technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

    In addition to traditional research outputs such as monographs, edited volumes, journal articles and book chapters, I am committed to exploring creative and practice-based forms of research dissemination.

     

    Current projects:

    1.The Role of VR and AI in Interactive Testimonies (Monograph)

    This research forms part of my next book Memory in 3D: Holograms and Digital Afterlives (to be published with Legenda, Oxford) and seeks to understand the impact of AI on the ways, audiences interact with and are encouraged to relate to testimonies of difficult histories in educational settings, such as museums. It addresses questions relating to the ethical challenges of memory practices that are distributed between digital platforms and humans and as such combine neural, bodily, social and technological resources. Since 2013, the USC Shoah Foundation has been working on ‘Dimensions in Testimony’: recordings of Holocaust survivor testimonies with the aim to facilitate a virtual conversation beyond their actual lifespan. The idea is to emotionally engage younger audiences with this difficult topic by bringing the events of the past to life: survivors have been able to achieve this through providing testimony in schools and museums. Therefore – so the rationale suggests – we need to find a way to extend this form of personal interaction beyond the death of those who have actually suffered through the Holocaust. The result allows audiences to engage in a Q&A session with a three-dimensional (‘holographic’) projection of a survivor who responds to their questions in real time. This project already extends to testimonies of other genocides, for example with a survivor of the Nanjing Massacre (exhibited at the Nanjing Memorial Hall) and survivors of the Rwandan Genocide. Similar initiatives are ongoing in the UK (The Forever Project by the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark) and Germany (Learning with Digital Testimonies at the LMU, Munich). The project explores a) the educational contexts in which these interactive testimonies are being used and the commercial interests that are at play, b) the technologies that guide and limit the encounter between digital witness and user, and c) the users’ empathic investment (or lack thereof) in the virtual testimonies. It will also take into account a wider commemorative context that makes increasingly use of augmented and virtual reality installations.

     

    2. Mediating Holocaust Testimonials in the Digital Age (Research collaboration with Dr Diana Popescu)

    Accelerated by the global pandemic, virtual testimonies are entering museum spaces at an increasing rate. Guided by questions emerging from museum practice and audience research, this project examines the impact of digital mediation upon how testimony is given, contextualised, circulated, and understood. We aim to not just critically interrogate existing conversational models of audience engagement (such as the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony), but adopt a practice-led approach with the aim to design interventions to identify and solve problems in Holocaust eduction, specifically, to advance knowledge and understanding of how testimony mediation can further our understanding of the Holocaust in a broader context of histories of racism. We will conduct “research through design” by working collaboratively with a creative designer company and museum partners (Imperial War Museum London and The Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre in Huddersfield) on an interactive digital experience in the form of a smartphone app . This app is designed for a multicultural and intergenerational audience and can be experienced in museum spaces as well as in the classroom or at home. It will be accompanied by educational resources including an ethical guideline and an educational booklet. Aiming for creative solutions rather than simply exploring the potentials and limitations of new technologies, this project integrates the production of knowledge with its dissemination among (museum) educators, the academic community and the wider public.

     

    3. Digital Immortality (Research Network)

    Seed-funding enabled Professor Julia Creet (York University, Toronto, Canada) and myself to hold a colloquium and public screening on ‘Digital Afterlives and Genealogy Industries’ (Birkbeck, 21 May 2018) and to build a network of researchers from different disciplines both inside and outside of academia. This project interrogates the notion of ‘digital afterlives’ which includes both digital remains, that is, data left on the Internet by deceased users (e.g. social media profiles) and the pressing question of what happens to their data after death as well as purposefully left behind digital legacies. While there is considerable research interest in digital remains, the impact of digital legacies on the private and public sector (education, health, cultural institutions), underpinned by emerging technologies such as holograms and avatars, has yet to be fully understood. A flourishing industry virtually resurrects not only those who have left a considerable digital footprint but, retrospectively, those that have come before in an attempt to allow for a – quite literally – more animated connection to the dead. Big data and AI enable a hyper-connectivity between the living and the dead, human and non-human actors, that redefine existing notions not only of agency but also of memory. The way AI has infiltrated our lives means that many of our personal and collective acts of remembering are ‘distributed’ across a network of human and algorithmic actors. They cannot be conceptualised with existing concepts of collective memory which only take into account human actors. We bring together a group of researchers with expertise in memory studies, computer science, digital media studies, psychology and death studies to empirically research case studies in which users collaboratively remember together with (posthumous) virtual agents. The main output of ‘Digital Immortality’ will be a documentary designed to reach a wide demographic of film festival, broadcast and streaming audiences. We view the documentary not only as an output, but the process of generating it as an integral part of our method for addressing our specific objectives.

  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching

    Supervision

    Current doctoral researchers

    • CLARE HAVELL
    • LEILA NASSERELDEIN
    • TAMSIN SILVEY

    Doctoral alumni

    • KELLI WESTON
    • BRUCE EADIE
    • MARK CALLAGHAN

    Teaching

    Memory Studies is a cross-disciplinary field, extending across and forging links between history, psychosocial and cultural studies, museum, media and film studies. This also filters through into my contributions to cross-subject teaching and curriculum development: I collaborate with colleagues across the School of Arts (and beyond) in co-teaching, PhD supervision and developing shared undergraduate and postgraduate modules.

    Teaching modules

    • Memory, Media and Digital Culture (ARMC230S6)
    • The Politics of Culture
    • Transcultural Memory (ARMC228S7)
    • Screen Media: History, Technology and Culture (AHVM031S7)
    • Museum Cultures - Approaches, Issues, Skills (ARVC059S7)

    Teaching modules

    • Dissertation MA Film and Screen Media (AHVM020D7)
    • Transcultural Memory (ARMC228S7)
  • Publications

    Publications

    Article

    Audio

    Book

    Book Section

    Conference Item

    Editorial

  • Business and community

    Business and community

    Outreach

    Plenaries and keynotes (since 2014)

    International Conference ‘Museums as Spaces of Cultural Translation and Transfer’ (University of Tartu, Estonia, 10-11 May 2022). https://museumtranslation.ut.ee/program

    International Conference ‘Museums as Agents of Memory and Change’ (University of Tartu, Estonia, 24-26 April 2019)

    International Conference ‘Decolonising the Museum’ (Georgetown University, Washington DC, 9–10 November 2018)

    GIF Workshop ‘Going Home: Familiarity, Memory and Atmosphere in German and Israeli Museums’ (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 4–6 January 2017)

    International Conference ‘Transforming the Museum: An Exploration’ (Jewish Museum Berlin, 27–28 May 2016)

    International Conference ‘Erinnerung und Emotion. Postkoloniale und geschlechter‑theoretische Perspektiven’ (Centre for Postcolonial and Gender Studies, Trier/Germany, 2–4 July 2015)

    International Conference ‘1914–1944: Clashing Anniversaries or Multi-Directional Memories’ (University of Chichester, 13 June 2014)

    International Conference ‘Commemoration, New Audiences and Spaces of Memory in Latin America’s Southern Cone: Trans-cultural Dialogues in the Wake of Loss’ (Buenos Aires, 27–28 March 2014)

    Conference Papers (since 2014)

    Conference workshops ‘A Manifesto for the Postpandemic Museum’ and ‘Curatorial Dilemmas’, Memory Studies Association Fifth Annual Conference Convergences,  (5–9 July 2021, Warsaw, Poland - online)

    Invited speaker at workshop ‘First-person narrative on video: testimony, uses and afterlife’, AHRC Research Network: United Nations Television in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (19 May 2021, Imperial War Museum, London - online)

    Speaker at the Inaugural Symposium of the MSA Nordic (29–30 October 2020, University of Copenhagen - online)

    Invited speaker at workshop ‘Curating Violence Elsewhere’ (14–15 February 2020, University College London)

    Invited speaker at UCC, Ireland (‘Holographic Afterlives: Virtual Encounters in the Museum’, 11 April 2019)

    Invited speaker at the Heritage Empath Symposium (M Shed Bristol, 4 December 2018)

    Invited speaker/panellist at ‘Grave Stones’, Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation (Oxford University, 3 March 2018)

    Invited speaker at MSA Second Annual Conference (University of Copenhagen, 14–16 December 2017)

    Conference paper at International Conference COST Action ‘In search of transcultural memory in Europe’ (ISTME) Locating and Dislocating Memory (University College Dublin, 1–3 September 2016)

    Invited speaker at Conventions of Proximity in Art, Theatre and Performance at Birkbeck (5–6 May 2016)

    Invited guest speaker at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies (University of Glasgow, 12 February 2016)

    Conference paper at International Conference COST Action ‘In search of transcultural memory in Europe’, The Audiovisual Production of Transcultural Memory in Europe (Dubrovnik, 17–19 September 2015)