NIU Student Researcher Natalie Cincotta

A short clip of me discussing my research project, as part of the Celebrating Excellence series.


Back on track

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.

Research Reflections & Developments

First Semester of Research: A Reflection

My research has taken many twists and turns since last semester, and it has been nothing short of an incredible, formative experience. I am so grateful to be working with two wonderful, insightful mentors, and researching something I really love.

My first semester doing research has been a challenging but rewarding experience. I still have miles to go, but I already feel I have a better grasp of what it means to do research, and what it means to be a historian. The main challenge I faced in the fall semester was in locating and analyzing sources. Amateur photographs are particularly hard to locate, and when you do, it’s difficult to answer crucial questions without the original artifact in front of you. I attempted to get in touch with several archives in december to get better access, but at the present moment am still waiting on responses.

I also came across the challenge of analyzing photographs. For starters, background information is often hard to locate (the photographer’s identity, where the photographs were taken, what order they appeared, etc.). In addition, with little written accompaniments, it is difficult to discern what the photographers intended, and what their ideological ideas may have been. Trying to analyze this from a photograph is therefore a very risky as the historian can only make assumptions. I also found in my reading that historians have not dealt with this issue enough before coming to conclusions about photographs. Hence, undergoing these difficulties and noticing the unsophisticated use of photography in my reading led to a turn in my project. Now, I will primarily address the methodological issues historians face in using photography as a historical document, and draw in official and unofficial German photographs as examples and to test different methodologies.


I received notification that my abstract has been accepted for a poster presentation at the 2013 National Conference on Undergraduate Research in LaCrosse, Wisconsin!

I also had the opportunity to visit the War/Photography exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX. The exhibit was a collection of images over 165 years from Mexican-American War to the present day. Considering photography in a global context increased my understanding of how the medium developed and changed, and how war is represented in different contexts.

Research Topic Part II

I have decided to which avenue I want to explore for my research project, and it is quite different to the ideas I was discussing in the previous blog post. As I mentioned, I contemplated comparing the portrayal of children with Hitler and Stalin, but the more I read the more this topic seemed somewhat predictable. I returned to my initial bibliography to see what sources I had not yet read, and after some reading I had an ‘aha!’ moment that resulted in my research topic: A comparison between the representation of children in official and amateur German photography 1939-1945.

Right now I am working on my proposal due Friday, and am reading through a book on amateur photography. Next I will have to make a research appointment at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center at Skokie, so I can begin looking at primary source material!

My Research Topic Part I

The 1925 Leica – the 35 mm camera that revolutionized photography and photojournalism in the 1920s

Generally speaking, my research topic will be on the use of children in Nazi Photography, particularly in the ways children are portrayed with Hitler, and how emotion and/or physiognomy portray a certain message to the viewer. I have come across a few different avenues which I can take this project, so as I am reading I will come to a decision based on what I find the most compelling. On way I could take the project is doing a  transnational comparison between Hitler and Stalin as it pertains to children and photography, and discern what is nationally distinctive about Germany. Another could be examining how Nazis photographed children during the war, particularly how they tried to illicit responses through emotion (specifically of anti-Bolshevist photography of starving Soviet children).

One of my mentors actually suggested this topic for my research project, as she is researching the subject, but I have be given the flexibility to take it in my own direction. I have always been interested in Nazi Germany, and this was an aspect of its history that I have never read about or considered before. What excites me about this project is being able to look at history through the lens of the photographer, and trying to discern what response they were trying to evoke within the political and social situation at the time. Most of all, I am excited to discover a facet of history that has not really been written about or studied in the past.

What I am most nervous about is probably finding, and translating, German sources. Many primary documents belong to German libraries, although I have been lucky to have accessed a few in the States. Although I have taken 3 semesters of German, I am not yet fluent, and it is harder to skim a book for important information when you don’t know all the vocabulary. Apart from that, I am making headway on my research project, and look forward to delving deeper into my topic!


Finding a Mentor (or mentors!)

Hi all!

I’m Natalie – A sophomore history and journalism major at Northern Illinois University. I created this blog to document my experience and progress with Research Rookies – A program giving undergraduates the opportunity to gain research experience, make connections, and explore their future field of employment.

The first step in the program was finding a research mentor (or in my case, mentors!). I began by looking at profiles on the History Department’s website, to see whose research interested me. I knew I was interested in Modern German history, particularly National Socialism, so I set up a meeting with Dr. Heide Fehrenbach, who specializes in this area, which went very well. I also set up a meeting with Dr. Vera Lind, a professor specializing in Early Modern Europe & Germany, whose research pertaining to themes of culture, race and identity intrigued me – which corresponds with the themes I will be addressing when researching National Socialism.

Both meetings went extremely well, so I am excited to have two knowledgable and accomplished mentors to guide me through the research process.