The Holocaust, Human Rights and the Contemporary Museum, Research Seminar with Dr Avril Alba

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Date(s) - 17/04/2013
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm



The Holocaust, Human Rights and the Contemporary Museum

Increasingly and internationally, Holocaust museums are being called upon to maintain their ‘contemporary relevance’ in order to retain the interest and support of the visiting public. Exactly what such relevance entails is more often than not a vexed issue, for to maintain relevance these institutions must engage with the necessity of bringing the past into the present, delving into the potentials and pitfalls of what has come to be labelled ‘memory work’. The Sydney Jewish Museum stands on the cusp of a major renovation of its permanent Holocaust exhibition. The factors compelling this development are the passing of the survivor generation, the age of the current permanent exhibition and the demands of ‘contemporary relevance’. At present, the concept of ‘Human Rights’ is the dominant paradigm within which this generational shift seems set to occur. Yet what is evident when reviewing the history of the Sydney Jewish Museum to date, alongside a comparison of similar problems that have beset such ventures internationally, is that this supposedly unifying framework may provoke more questions than answers and that obtaining ‘contemporary relevance’ may be a more difficult and shifting ‘goal post’ than it first appears.

Dr. Avril Alba is the Roth Lecturer in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Sydney. Previously she served as Education Director at the Sydney Jewish Museum, where she oversaw the redesign of the museum’s permanent exhibition, “Culture and Continuity: Journey Through Judaism”. Her research on memory and representation of the Holocaust has focused on the role of museums as sacred spaces.