Being extremely user-friendly and offering extensive research tools, this online edition is attractive to the general interested public as well. Different text genres and various types of sources such as images or sound and video recordings provide information on German-Jewish history on different levels. The edition has a modular structure so that the sources can be researched by users via three different paths: a timeline, a map or a thematic module.
The online edition thematically highlights key aspects of local, regional, and general German-Jewish history by using a sample of currently about 115 key documents. The number of these key documents could certainly be increased. There are different text levels in order to integrate the sources into their historical context as well as into scholarly debate.
A general overview is provided by the first text genre, the introductions to the currently 15 subject categories. Written by different editors, these introductions represent the most detailed and profound text genre in terms of content. In contrast to a printed historical introduction, they do not follow a common narrative and can thus be read independently of one another. In some cases thematic aspects will therefore be repeated in different introductions, all of which stand alone yet complement each other content wise. The introductions are the longest texts in the edition. Their purpose is to place the sources in the broader historical context.
The selection of subject categories offers a multi-perspective access to the circumstances shaping Jewish life, and it captures important aspects of life within the Jewish communities on various levels without trying to establish a metanarrative. The categories are meant to present the diverse facets of Jewish life rather than reduce Jewish history to a history of persecution and/or contribution. The underlying idea of the thematic introductions is that a specific thematic focus opens up a path into German-Jewish history which will then lead to further questions. Someone only interested in the topic of “law and politics” initially might thus be directed to the topic of “leisure and sports” by clicking a link to a source. On the one hand, the selection of subject categories is arrived at by processof induction from the sources – in the case of categories such as “leisure and sports” or “arts and culture,” for example. On the other hand, the editorial staff is aware that a certain basic thematic structure similar to a historical introduction is necessary, and therefore introductions on “demographics and social structure” and “economy and occupational patterns” are provided as well.
The individual subject categories are:
• Antisemitism and Persecution
• Arts and Culture
• Demographics and Social Structure
• Economy and Occupational Composition
• Education and Learning
• Family and Everyday Life
• Law and Politics
• Leisure and Sports
• Memory and Remembrance
• Organizations and Institutions
• Religion and Identity
• Sephardic Jews
• Social Issues and Welfare
The core of the edition consists of the second text genre, the sources. Most of the edited sources are texts, but non-textual sources are read as texts as well. Whenever possible sources are presented in their entirety; only in some cases have clips or excerpts been chosen instead. The length of the sources has been limited for reasons of content as well as for practical reasons: firstly, a short text allows the interpretation to discuss single aspects in depth and to closely examine individual sentences or phrases which cannot be discussed as thoroughly when interpreting a longer text. Secondly, the brevity of the texts is necessitated by the medium and online reading habits.
Source interpretations represent the third text genre. Their function is to “open the door” to understanding the sources, to pick up on the larger topics discussed in the introductions, and to illustrate major developments in Jewish history by means of a specific source. At the same time they offer one way of interpreting the source in question.
Each source interpretation opens with a brief source description highlighting the most significant aspects and relevant information about the source in a few sentences.
On the technical level each source is accompanied by a transcription, which is helpful if not outright necessary for interviews, songs or barely legible handwriting and also enables a full text search.
English translations are made available not only for the metatexts (introductions and interpretations), but also for the sources themselves.
Metadata for persons, places, and events are tagged directly in the documents. In addition to targeted searches, this allows for sophisticated indexing tools to be included in the website, thus taking advantage of the potential of electronic publishing. Large parts of these metadata are stored in an index. This concise background information can be found in the “look-up” menu, including an extensible glossary and further information on persons, for example. Where applicable it will also include external links.
The digital edition provides many different ways of accessing the sources or questions relating to German-Jewish history. Different paths lead users to the sources and their interpretations. These paths can be accessed via three flags labeled “timeline,” “map,” and “topics.” All sources are assigned a primary date through metadata. This generally is the verifiable date of the source’s creation. For oral history interviews and memoirs the editorial staff has decided to assign two dates – the date when the source was created and the verifiable historic time period it covers. They are integrated into a timeline based on these dates. For example, those not interested in a diachronic look at a subject throughout the entire course of modern German-Jewish history but in a synchronous look at the history of Hamburg’s Jews in the eighteenth century can run a targeted search for the relevant sources. The decision for a timeline and against established historical epochs was taken in order to ensure opennessfor other historical caesuras.
A second way of accessing the material is through a map. In addition to a primary date the sources are also tagged with a primary location – usually the place where they were created – which allows for their location on the map. Since the edition spans several centuries and thus covers several historical, political, and environmental changes, this map is not based on historical data. It is an abstracted map intended mainly for spatial orientation and does not claim historical accuracy. In the current phase of the project, which focuses on Hamburg, the map mostly shows results in the area of northern Germany for obvious reasons.
The third way of accessing the sources is through specific topics which are discussed in depth in the introductions, where explicit reference is made to the relevant sources. Each introduction contains links to individual sources related to its subject matter. Since some sources are relevant to various contexts, links to them appear in several of the introductions.