Last week, my mentor and I worked on developing new research questions for my refocused project: How have historians of Nazi Germany used photography by German soldiers on the Eastern Front? What is the relationship between past realities and photography, and how do historians deal with this relationship? Are photographs documentary evidence of past realities, or manipulated ideologically by the photographer?
In order to answer these questions, I am in the process of conducting a review of historical and photographic literature to see how historians and scholars in related disciplines have used photos as evidence. Thus far, historical debates relating to the use of photos has arisen in my literature review. Some historians use photos to visually explain what is being argued in the written text, and thus consider photos as windows to past realities. Other historians argue that photos take on different meanings over time, and thus are not realistic representations of the past. Thus, these historians argue that photos should be treated as distinct pieces of evidence that need to be interpreted and explained. Hence, there is a lack of consensus on how photos, particularly of the Nazi era on the Eastern Front, should be used in history.
At the end of my literature review, I will to begin drafting an argument on my findings and judgement of the use of photography in the history of Nazi Germany.
Working with two mentors on this project is essential to research as an undergrad. They have helped shape my project, challenged me to ask complex questions,and overcome obstacles. They have really helped me define what it means to conduct historical research, and have gone above and beyond to help set foundations for a future in historical research.