DH Jewish Hackathon

Potsdam Network for Digital Humanities; Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies
Vom - Bis
15.09.2022 - 18.09.2022
Nina Zellerhoff, Moses Mendelssohn Zentrum für europäisch-jüdische Studien; Gerben Zaagsma, Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), University of Luxembourg; Yael Netzer, Digital Humanities, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Itay Marienberg-Millikowsky, Hebrew Literature, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Digitization of Jewish cultural heritage opens up numerous opportunities, yet at the same time poses a wide range of challenges. As more and more sources are becoming available, and easier to access, the challenge of processing and analyzing them, and the question which digital tools to use becomes ever more important. It is therefore important to look at digitized Jewish cultural heritage from the perspective of both Jewish Studies and the Digital Humanities. This first DH Jewish Hackathon, which focused on “Digital Heritage and Jewish Studies”, offered the opportunity to elaborate a wide variety of approaches, but also created a basis for open exchange, collaborative experimentation and prototyping.

Nearly 40 international scholars and experts, with disciplinary backgrounds ranging from history, literary and archival studies to computer science, spent 4 days working intensively on data, visualization, programming and much more, seeking to apply digital approaches to projects rooted in various humanities disciplines. The hackathon was part of the so-called unconference series “Henriette Herz Hackathons”, which is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in the context of the Henriette Herz Award. The hackathon was organized by the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies and the Potsdam Network for Digital Humanities and together with three international fellows: Yael Netzer (Researcher and Teaching fellow at Hebrew University, Haifa University, Dicta, Tel Aviv University), Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky (Head of the Literary Lab, Department of Hebrew Literature, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) and Gerben Zaagsma (Assistant Professor in Contemporary and Digital History at the Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), University of Luxembourg).

Main Part/Projects

The first day of the hackathon was entirely dedicated to introductions. After a short welcome by MIRIAM RÜRUP (Potsdam), director of the Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies, PEER TRILCKE (Potsdam), head of the Theodor-Fontane-Archive at the University of Potsdam and speaker of the Potsdam Network for Digital Humanities, outlined the general idea and approach of the hackathon.

All participants had been asked before the start of the hackathon to share their ideas and suggestions for projects to work on. Following the opening remarks, all proposed projects were presented in a series of 10-minute presentations - their aims, current stage of work, datasets that existed or would have to be created, and the anticipated outcomes. Following this round of pitches the participants could join one of 8 project teams.

SINAI RUSINEK (Haifa) introduced the project “A Jewish Republic of Letters” which revolved around mapping and exploring visualization solutions for metadata of Jewish correspondences.

YAEL DEKEL and ITAY MARIENBERG-MILIKOWSKY (both Be'er Scheva) focused with their project “Development of a Database for the Hebrew Novel from 1853 to the Present” on a database that contains objective bibliographic information as well as interpretation-dependent literary information and can be used as a tool in the study of the entire corpus of the Hebrew novel, Jewish society as well as Jewish history, and helps to make connections between different aspects related broadly to Jewish and Hebrew culture.

DANIEL BURCKHARDT's (Potsdam) project “Matching German Jewish Biographies” focused on the creation of a prototype database that combines personal records from different and already existing databases and additionally shows overlaps with the Aufbau New York Index and with names that were extracted from the “Mitteilungsblatt”, published in Tel Aviv since 1933.

With the project “Jewish-related Archive Catalogues”, YAEL NETZER (Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv) aimed to extract and model data from the online PDF of the book “Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in den Archiven der Neuen Bundesländer”, to clean, structure and standardize it, to form a searchable site (using the Omeka S web publishing platform for cultural heritage), and then to match and link the bibliographic information with other relevant historical and bibliographic sources.

In the project “Mapping Weimar Jewish Berlin”, GERBEN ZAAGSMA (Esch-sur-Alzette) and his team sought to explore East European Jewish Berlin in the Weimar period and the social and cultural fabric of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian Jewish migrant life.

The project “Modeling a database of Jewish cemeteries in Brandenburg” by INGO BÖRNER and PEER TRILCKE (both Potsdam) first tried to model the data according to current standards and then to develop a routine for converting the inscriptions of the gravestones, the translations, and the appropriate metadata into the EpiDoc standard for epigraphic data.
DANIIL SKORINKIN and MIRIAM RÜRUP (both Potsdam) chose the immigrants newspaper “Mitteilungsblatt” as a dataset and Skorinkin worked with a group on “Prototyping (and evaluating) a pipeline for Named Entity Recognition in ‘Mitteilungsblatt’” with a name register from the Mitteilungsblatt, which they intended to transform into a structured and machine-readable form. To extract mentions of persons, a prototype pipeline was to be created.

Just as important as the implementation and the work on the projects is the documentation of them. ANNA BUSCH (Potsdam) started the project “(Social) Media Reporting” with the aim to present the individual projects and their results on social media in order to increase public and academic awareness of the subject.

In addition to these projects, some of the participants also presented their ongoing work during two sessions which were intended as “input-and-discussion panels”. In the first of these sessions AMALIA S. LEVI discussed her PhD research entitled “Intersecting Networks: The Community of Enslaved People in Sephardic Households in 18th-century Barbados”; ALISON JOSEPH explained how metadata are used in the Posen Digital Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization; and BENJAMIN KIESSLING presented an overview of current OCR/HTR technology using eScriptorium as an example.
During the second session KONRAD NICIŃSKI showed the Atlas of Holocaust Literature of the Warsaw Ghetto, a project of the Digital Humanities Centre at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IBL PAN); GERBEN ZAAGSMA then discussed his ongoing work on “Mapping Wartime Jewish Diaries” with Nodegoat; and, last but not least, INGO BÖRNER, PEER TRILCKE, and DANIIL SKORINKIN presented DraCor, the Drama Corpora Plattform.


On the fourth day of the Hackathon, the results of all projects were presented by the various teams. Unsurprisingly, these were highly varied, as some projects started out with already existing datasets whereas others had to create these with almost nothing but an idea, and the technical challenges involved differed significantly too. As a result of tackling these challenges, code was written, scripts programmed, and data sets were created, which can now be used for further research. For example, a prototype of the Matching German Jewish Biographies tool with a basic search function was created; a visualization experiment was conducted for the project "Mapping Weimar Jewish Berlin" and an integrated database for the Hebrew novel was established. And no less important, conceptual, theoretical and methodological issues were discussed and tested through intense work with the data. During the hackathon, detailed documentation of the projects was created: https://www.uni-potsdam.de/digital-humanities/dhjewish-hackathon

As varied as the individual projects and their results were the interests and research foci of the participants. Their huge diversity of skills ultimately proved to be an advantage as the hackathon also became an exercise in, and example of, how to engage in collaborative team work and create a balanced distribution of roles within all projects to ensure a productive exchange and mutual support. Additionally, unlike other hackathons in academia and outside it, this hackathon was designed from the start to be a non-competitive event, promoting intellectual exchange in an open and patient manner.

The intensive work on a number of projects over several days also helped to create new networks and collaborations with colleagues in the field of Jewish Studies, irrespective of their specific research and project, and includes even researchers who do not have a background in this field and yet significantly contributed to the event. The hackathon offered the opportunity to test projects and probe their long term potential and feasibility with the support of other participants. Indeed, several of the projects are continuing beyond the hackathon which thus functioned as a fruitful incubator. It also became clear that the format was successful mainly because of its absence of hierarchies and the participants willingness to cooperate.

In conclusion, the first DH Jewish Hackathon was a successful event, and a number of projects started during those days will serve future research on and new mediations of Jewish history and culture.

Conference overview:

Moderation: Miriam Rürup (Potsdam) / Peer Trilcke (Potsdam)

Opening & Project Pitches



Amalia Levi (Bonn): Intersecting Networks: The Community of Enslaved People in Sephardic Households in 18th-century Barbados

Alison Joseph (Poznań): Diachronic Mapping in the Posen Digital Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization

Benjamin Kiessling (Paris): Overview on how current OCR/HTR software functions



Gerben Zaagsma (Esch-sur-Alzette): Mapping Wartime Jewish Diaries

Konrad Niciński (Warsaw): Atlas of Holocaust Literature - Warsaw Ghetto

Ingo Börner (Potsdam), Peer Trilcke (Potsdam), Daniil Skorinkin (Potsdam): DraCor. Drama Corpora Plattform

Presentations, Discussions & Closing

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