Amsterdam Blog

Monday, May 15, 2006

Discovering Domain Analysis

Textual Analysis of the Jewish Historic Museum

For this exercise, I limited my analysis to the History of the Collection Page

Terms Included:
Dates: 23 May 1930, 24 Feb 1932, 1937, 14 July 1955, 1974, 1875, 1987, 1930, 1994-2002
Art: documentary information, publications, visual material, video, music, photos, personal histories, diaries, letters, portraits, video interviews
Buildings / Departments: Resource Center, Weigh House, Jewish Historical Museum Foundation, Niewmarkt District, Jonas Daniel Meijerplein
Themes: religious, Dutch Jews, art, culture, history, studies, life,
Purpose: encourage, illustrate, inspire, involve, testify

Semantic Relationships:
23 May 1930, 24 Feb 1932, 1937, 14 July 1955, 1974, 1875, 1987, 1930, 1994-2002 are kinds of dates significant to the construction of the Jewish Historic Museum

documentary information, publications, visual material, video, music, photos, personal histories, diaries, letters, portraits, video interviews are ways to present various components of Jewish History

Niewmarkt District, Jonas Daniel Meijerplein, and Weigh House are used for physically housing parts of the Jewish Museum

encourage, illustrate, inspire, involve, and testify are reasons for constructing displays relating to Jewish culture

religious, Dutch Jews, art, culture, history, studies, and life are reasons for constructing themes around which to center exhibits

the Resource Center and the Jewish Historic Museum Foundation are used for gathering collections and displaying them in the museum

religious, Dutch Jews, art, culture, history, studies, and life are part of the exhibits at the Jewish Historic Museum

When I started doing this assignment, I didn't even know where to start. I chose to do a textual analysis on the Jewish Historic Museum because I thought it would be most perinant to my project. After reading the Spradley article, I felt like I could detatch myself from from cultural perceptions while observing people (I think I felt this way because he used so many examples of observing people). However, it was very hard for me to detach myself enough from the entirity of the text to delve into the assignment and start looking for words independent of thier context. I have spent so much time and emphasis in my academic career learning how to read texts in thier entirity and relate them to my own perceptions, the author's perceptions, and the perceptions of the audience that I really struggled to look for isolated words. However, after reading the short article over and over again, I was finally able to pick out words and phrases without being so bound by thier context. Once I started doing this, it got easier and easier to find words and make lists. When I went back through my lists to try and make semantic relationships, I realized first of all that my text selection was too big for this assignment, and second of all, that there were tons of semantic relationships (even more than I have posted here).

I found this research method useful because it allowed me to step outside my contextual self and look at something, in this case the brief history of the collections at the Jewish Historic Museum, from a more bottom up perspective. I think this understanding is important for something like a museum because it allows one to see that museums haven't always been the constructions they are now housing the exhibits they currently display. I think this research method could be slightly detrimental because I think some of the semantic relationships don't really contribute to a broader understanding of the text, in this case, and clutter the researcher's pallate. In other words, some of the semantic relationships seem to elicit a, "so what" response. Its great that this relationship exists, but why do we care? I think this research method would be more beneficial for observing people in space rather than analyzing text.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Urban Observations on the Ave

For our observations, we went to two cafes on the Ave--Solstice Cafe and Cafe on the Ave accross from Starbucks. At these two cafes, we focused on observing how people interact with the various urban components like bus stops, cross walks, businesses, etc. We recorded some of our observations on an audio file that can be accessed at the following link (Use Quicktime to listen).

Thinking About Culture in Cities

I chose to read this chapter of Understanding Amsterdam because I thought it would help me get a better understanding of how urban spaces shape someone’s culture, which is part of someone identity. In the essay, Hannerz breaks culture down into four contributing components: form of life, state, market, and movements. While Hannerz himself admits that such distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, as culture cannot be so easily separated, the four categories do help distinguish what different factors contribute to the shaping of one’s culture and how one can study the contributing aspects. For example, form of life consists of the mundane activities that shape our every day life such as work, church, eating, shopping, etc. Hannerz makes an interesting observation when discussing the effect of ones life because he notes that the activities that shape one’s cultural identity at the same time are the way in which we communicate our culture to others. For me this was especially interesting in light of urban observation that we did this weekend in Seattle and the observation we will be doing in Amsterdam. When we were observing people in Seattle interacting with their environment, we witnessed people living the “form of life” component to their cultural identity. When someone came to the bus stop, went into a coffee shop, or crossed the street, I was observing these people’s behaviors as an expression of their culture; I hadn’t really thought about their actions as actually shaping their cultural identity. For me, this symbiotic relationship between identity shaping and identity expression is particularly interesting when studying something like Jewish identity. Hannerz asserts that museums “are great devices for importing diversity from the outside, or for maintaining it by preserving the past” (177). When visiting something like a the Historic Jewish Museum in Amsterdam, is its primary purpose to preserve Jewish diversity, or does it contribute to one’s identity more directly in a “form of life” manner? How much of one’s activities shape one’s religious identity, and how much are one’s activities an expression of one’s identity? Does one consciously work to shape one’s identity, or is it simply a bi-product of one’s environment and activities?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Environment Behavior Research

When I saw the selection of articles to choose from, I was excited to read the selection from John Zeisel’s Inquiry by Design: Tools for Environment-Behavior Research because I thought it would give me some good guidelines and ideas for conducting observation based research in Amsterdam. For my research (as it stands now), one avenue I could pursue for understanding the construction of Jewish identity is through observation of visitors at various Jewish locations in the city such as the Jewish Historical Museum or the Jewish quarters in Amsterdam. On one hand, I felt like Zeisel’s article was simply a restatement of what people do every day when they interact within their environment. However, on the other hand, the simple awareness of knowing what you are observing and how you are observing it is all that distinguishes a common passer-by from a researcher. I thought Zeisel’s treatment of traces was especially interesting, particularly when he discussed how interviews could help to either affirm or negate hypotheses formed based from trace observation. Everyday, I encounter physical traces but I had never thought of them in the capacity of shaping the nature of a particular environment or necessarily being reflective of someone’s identity. After I finished this article, I started thinking about my own traces I leave behind and how they were reflective of my identity. What would someone surmise about my identity and culture if they walked into my room and saw physical traces that had either been consciously or unconsciously left behind? Also, after reading these chapters from Zeisel’s book, I felt like observation research was a very feasible type of research I could conduct in Amsterdam. In several places in his work, Zeisel mentions how this type of research could be conducted with minimal training in research methods, which sounded comforting since I am an undergraduate who has had no experience conducting field research. Also, since observation depends on what you see rather than whom you talk to, it seems like a very plausible type of research for a foreigner who is constricted by the language barrier.

1. How can I relate observations of people to the broader topic of the construction of Jewish identity? How can I take some of the principles discussed in Zeisel’s book and apply them to different types of physical constructions not addressed in his argument?
2. Having never conducted research in this capacity (where observations form a legitimate basis for a research project), I am unsure about how to shape my thesis or hypothesis to effectively convey my analysis. When using observation as a key component to research, how do you structure an argument to acknowledge the obvious bias that stems from observation without evading any sense of validity? Also, what is a traditional form for presenting observational research (ie paper, presentation, photo-journal, etc)?

Monday, May 01, 2006


Unverifiable Question:
• How, if at all, have constructions like the Jewish Historical Museum contributed to the shaping of Jewish identity in Amsterdam? How accurate do you think the exhibit at the Jewish Historical Museum regarding the symbiotic relationship between the Jewish culture and the Dutch culture is in portraying the ways Jews relate their identity to the city? How closely does the experience of the persecution of Jews during the holocaust resonate with your own sense of Jewish identity?

Since I am focusing on the identity construction of Jewish youth in Amsterdam, the unverifiable questions attempt to isolate the personal story behind an individual’s identity. These questions are not easily answered with “yes” or “no” but instead require a personal story. Each answer will vary depending on the life experiences and there is no inherent right or wrong answer. While certain trends can be surmised from the answers to these unverifiable questions, they are not constructed with the intent of compiling statistics or “hard, cold facts.” Instead, the research conducted through these questions reflects the personal aspect that accompanies the facts researched through the verifiable questions.

Verifiable Question:
• What has the city of Amsterdam done to reintegrate Jews back into the city after being expelled from during the holocaust? What monuments have been constructed to memorialize the persecution of Jews? What organizations (such as the Nederlands Israëlietisch Kerkgenootschap, the Netherlands’ main Jewish organization) have been created to facilitate the re-integration of Jewish quarters back into the Netherlands?

These questions are aimed at finding more objective and less subjective information regarding the construction of Jewish identity in Amsterdam. Many of these questions can be answered with a concrete answer that is verifiable true or false. Many of the words In terms of the nature of these questions, they tend to be more leading than the unverifiable questions, as their purpose is to determine an answer of “objective” truth that is relatively universal in its applications. Instead of asking “how” questions, which elicit opinion, these questions are “what” questions, which elicit factual answers.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Literary Portrait of Amsterdam

I know this is late...but here it is!
“The Return” by Marga Minco
Of all three of the readings I did for today, this was by far my favorite. For some reason, it resonated more closely with me than did any of the other readings and seemed to touch on issues that frequently seem secondary to the study of the holocaust. Even though the suffering that happened during the Holocaust was horrible, the “time ahead was more difficult to cope with than years in hiding” (203). When holocaust victims return to their home towns, they didn’t return to the scene they had left. When the memory of home that had brought comfort to those suffering in hiding or in concentration camps is no longer the home that exists, the reality of uncovering a home from the rubble is traumatic. Not only does war take a toll on the people, but it also takes a toll on the land. The city changes; the landscape changes; the store changes; the inhabitants change. War changes the landscape of the individual and of the city; in the aftermath of war, each must come to terms with each other and come to terms with the destruction. As the city re-builds itself and builds tributes and monuments to memorialize the war, the victims of war re-build thier personal lives.

“The Assault” by Harry Mulisch
As I read the account of Harry Mulisch’s encounter with WWII and the painful memories that failed to escape his sub-conscious, I was reminded by a quote of Joseph Stalin: “one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic.” When we study war, we frequently gravitate towards mass statistics as a way of trying to put our minds around the huge travesty and loss that occurs during war. 6 millions Jews died in the holocaust. 23 million soviets died in the war. 70% of the Dutch Jewish population perished in the War. When we read numbers like this, we are often blown away by the sheer number of people who perished, but we can’t make any sense of what it actually meant to be one of a statistic. Also, when we study war, we become especially enamored with death and dying. But what about the experiences of those who lived through the war? In “The Assault,” Mulisch gives readers a taste of what it is like to survive war and live to bear witness of the tragedy. Although Mulisch tries to forget his past, he realizes that “things don’t vanish all that easily” (219). Even though the War had ended years ago, the past was still emblazoned in his present sub-conscious.

“Business” by Lizzy Sara May
For me, the most thought-provoking element of this short story was the stereotypical nature of the encounter between the business man and the Jewish father on a casual Saturday afternoon. While this is somewhat reflective of the time period (as business was conducted on a much more personal basis during earlier times), it is also reflective of the nature of Jewish communities, which were close-knit amongst themselves but isolated from more mainstream culture. Jewish people are often stereotyped as being business men who honor the Sabbath and spend time with their families, and this short story is a near perfect example of this stereotype. When reflecting on this story, I started thinking about the nature of stereotypes. How much does actual behavior shape the nature of the stereotype and how much do stereotypes reinforce behavior?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Research Leads

University of Amsterdam Resources (can't figure out the links they aren't linked within the following text):
1. Program director and contributing professors for the MA program in Jewish studies—The Jewish Studies program at UvA is designed to look at how Jewish identity has been shaped in Amsterdam from the first immigrants who came arrived from in 1492 and 1497 through present where a substantial Jewish culture thrives in Amsterdam. This program at UvA requires field studies of their students that incorporate many of the city’s resources including the Bibliotheca Rosenthalina, the Jewish Historic Museum, and the Amsterdam Communal Archives, to name a few. Ideal contacts would be Dr. Irene Zwelp, the program director, or some of the professors who teach within this major. From this resource, I would hope that the professors could point me to students within this major who I could talk to, and perhaps have them help me locate the best resources in the city and the University that align with my research goals. The Jewish studies program seems small, so I am hoping that the professors involved would be excited to talk to me and point me to other resources.
2. Program director and contributing professors for the MA program in Jewish Cultures—the Jewish Cultures program is similar to the Jewish Studies program, but is rooted more firmly in cultural identity, both of Jews and the city, and examines issues such as Jewish colonized position, the supra-national element of Jewish culture in Europe, Jewish otherness, etc. Like the Jewish Studies program, the Jewish Cultures program also requires students to conduct field studies relating to their major and area of interest. Ideal contacts would be the professors who contribute to this major and the students who participate in this major. On this website, the UvA posts an interview with a recent Jewish Culture graduate, who appears as if she was one of very few, if not the only student in her year who graduated with a Jewish Cultures degree. In her interview, she discussed the intimacy of the program and the willingness of professors to work with her, so I would hope that they would be willing to talk to me.

The Jewish Community of The Netherlands
This site I found is under the umbrella organization of the European Jewish Congress. The specific site I found relating to the Jewish community in the Netherlands lists lots of organizations that contribute to the Jewish community in the Netherlands including a few synagogues, some Jewish schools, and some communities. From this website, I hope to find names of places where I can further inquire about my research. The schools in particular seemed interesting to me since my project has a focus on youth. The one contact from this site that may or may not be of tremendous use is the e-mail address listed for the Jewish Community of the Netherlands.

The European Union of Jewish Students
This site is the webpage for the continent-wide Union of Jewish students. This organization has its headquarters in Brussels and aims at creating a strong sense of European Jewish leadership amongst the student demographic. While there was not too much helpful information contained on the website itself, there was a list of several people with e-mail addresses, who may be able to point me in the direction of student organizations that are more closely affiliated with Amsterdam. There was a link to a blog site, which I was very excited about finding since it related to my topic so well, but it was in German…so I’m still looking for a resource of this nature.

Other Resources:
1. Transcript to a lecture given by a professor at University of Southern California on Holland and the Holocaust
2. The Jewish Historical Museum
3. European Association for Jewish Studies
4. The Jewish Studies Program at UW—especially contacting professors. I have a good relationship with Dr. Stein since she was my professor and because I am currently doing research for a book she is working on—her specialty is Modern Jewish History, which aligns well with my interests. She will defiantly be a contact I can use to get more information.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Trust in Technology: When Cyberspace Becomes the Substitute for Human Reason

After reading the two articles assigned for today’s reading, I was struck by the amount of trust people put into cyberspace. Living in a world where people divulge more information to an inanimate computer than they do their own physician and open up more candidly to online surveys than to fellow human beings, I wonder why we have put so much faith in technology and so little trust in people. Are we all too scared of our own identities to “act like ourselves” when we interact with other people? Do we reserve genuine honesty for machines and cyberspace in an attempt to avoid public scrutiny? Perhaps we are driven to conceal our identity and protect our “real” feelings because of the dangers are ironically perpetuated by the very technology in which we divulge so much trust–dangers like identity theft, e-stalking, sexual predation, etc. In a world where safety tops the list of many people’s primary concerns, we are taught to look out for ourselves and protect our assets, both personal and material. Perhaps as Joinson discusses in her article, we all just want to interact with each other as “strangers on the train,” and the internet has allowed us to preserve our anonymity, protect our identity, while still building personal relationships (albeit it largely “hypersocial” relationships) that are intrinsic to human existence and interaction. As researchers in the 21st century, we have access to a vast amount of resources available on the Internet, which foster an unprecedented breadth of research and discovery. By understanding our resources, we should be keenly aware of the interaction between humans and their computers and take advantage of the “candid” responses that can come from carefully crafted online research. I also think that researchers need to be aware of the dangers of the Internet, which brings me to the discussion of “Deconstructing Google Bombs.”

I think people in today’s society mistakenly assume that search engines like Google are a researcher rather than a tool used to assist a researcher. While this distinction may seem silly and even elementary, further exploration on the “danger” of Google bombs proves that this distinction is essential to understand. Search engines, like Google, use a carefully devised algorithm to find sites with the greatest degree of relevance to the key word(s). And that is it. That is all they do—compile a list of hits for the researcher to further explore and discern the amount of credibility attributed to each site. A skilled researcher should know instantly that the listing of George W. Bush’s autobiographical site as the number one source of relevance for “miserable failure” is asinine and hardly credible as legitimate research (I’ll ignore the fact that “miserable failure” as a prompt for a research project seems hardly worthwhile to begin with…). I am not discrediting the annoyance of Google bombs, as they make the already arduous task of a researcher even more challenging, but I do not think they pose a huge threat to the legitimacy of good research. Research by its very nature is hard work. If tools designed to help our research (like Google) have flaws (like Google bombs), then we learn to work around them. While it is somewhat disconcerting how easily the information in cyberspace can be manipulated to reflect the political agenda of a few, it is even more disconcerting that people can’t use their own minds to recognize the absurdity behind this and discern the truth from the lies. Has blind faith in Internet sites become the 21st century substitute for human reason?