From school project to crowdsourcing campaign
Our #everynamecounts crowdsourcing initiative was launched in 2020. This initiative offers a new and very direct form of active engagement with the past and an opportunity to join with many thousands of volunteers to remember the victims of Nazi persecution and stand up for respect, diversity and solidarity.
Around 1000 students helped us test the project at the beginning of 2020. During this pilot phase, the working title was still #JederNamezählt, a German version of the current name. What happened next took us very much by surprise as none of us had expected the project to meet with such a positive response or be quite so successful: 10,000 volunteers from all over the world registered with #everynamecounts in 2020 and processed 2.5 million documents.
“A great experience”
By the end of 2020, a project that started the year as a German initiative called #JederNamezählt had metamorphosed into an international campaign that goes by the name #everynamecounts. In this interview, Anke Münster, Head of PR at the Arolsen Archives, and Christa Seidenstücker, a member of the project team, talk about how the crowdsourcing campaign developed over the course of the year. They also look into their crystal ball and tell us what the future holds.
Where did the idea for #everynamecounts come from?
Anke: The idea to set up a crowdsourcing project was born when a colleague told us about an initiative to index historical documents in the Netherlands. At first, we thought it might only be of interest to people who like civil science projects. But then we realized it could be a good project for schools, and we had the idea that students could index documents from the Auschwitz concentration camp on Holocaust Memorial Day. So the project became a new way for students to engage with this history.
How did you go about implementing the idea to run #everynamecounts as a project for schools?
Christa: Once we realized that Zooniverse was the right platform, we set about building the project for school students. It was only available in German at first, and it was called #JederNamezählt, which means every name counts! Then, on January 27, 2020, 25 schools took part, and the thing that most impressed the students was the local connection provided by the transport lists. Sometimes they recognized the addresses of former concentration camp prisoners, for example, or they realized that whole families had been deported – often with young people who were about the same age as themselves.
Many students also found working on the transfer lists from Auschwitz to be a very special experience. We received a lot of very positive feedback with many participants telling us that it felt good to be able to do something of real value, for example. Knowing that they were playing an active role in our initiative and were helping to make sure the names will never be forgotten was something they felt very positive about.
How did the coronavirus pandemic impact #everynamecounts?
Christa: When we all suddenly had to start working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, we began to involve a lot more of our own staff in the project. People from the digitization team got involved, for example, as there wasn’t any other work they could easily do from home. At around the same time, Floriane Azoulay, our Director, had the idea that it would be good to use the project as a virtual memorial site, as all the events that had been scheduled to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in 2020 had been cancelled.
That’s how #JederNamezählt became an international campaign with the title #everynamecounts. Before it got off the ground, the project had to go through the process to become an official Zooniverse project which could be accessed by the general public. Once that was done, we were able to launch #everynamecounts on April 24.
Did the public launch go as planned?
Anke: The amazing response took us by surprise. By the end of the first month, the volunteers had already indexed 250,000 names, so things went really well right from the start. An article published in the New York Times was particularly helpful as it brought us an incredible amount of attention. By August, 7000 volunteers had already registered.
Christa: We benefited a lot from Zooniverse spreading the word about our project in their own community, and then the day after the article appeared in the New York Times, we had 50,000 classifications – that was a real boost.
How has #everynamecounts changed the Arolsen Archives?
Christa: The project started out as a kind of sideline that was created at very short notice. We only had a small team working on the project when it was first launched, and it didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to reach more people and that we would need a larger team.
What does #everynamecounts mean to you on a personal level?
Anke: I think it’s the feedback we get from the volunteers that impresses us all the most. We never dreamed that the project would arouse so much curiosity and inspire so many people to look for more information. Users soon started doing their own research because they want to know exactly what happened to the people whose names they find on the documents they are indexing. For me, the fact that anyone can take part is one of the best things about the project.
Christa: It was an insane amount of work, but it was worth it. It was a pleasure for me to work so closely with our users. Sometimes relatives shared their family history with us, and we’ve been impressed to see how open people are in the forum. People treat each other with great respect, it’s quite remarkable really. For me, it’s the people who make it such a positive experience, because the project shows that there are so many people who are prepared to let themselves be touched by these fates and who are willing to sacrifice their free time. That’s very heartening if you’re sometimes worried about the state of the world.
What are your plans for the future of #everynamecounts?
Anke: We’d like to make #everynamecounts more well known internationally, and we want to involve more schools in the project. With that aim in mind, we’ve already developed a digital introduction that went online in early 2021. We’re getting everything ready to run a bigger schools campaign. A highlight in January was the #everynamecounts multi-media installation in Berlin to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. That’s an event we prepared in 2020 together with the artist collective Urbanscreen. We’d really like the multi-media installation to tour more cities. And our overall goal is for all the documents in our archive to be indexed and to be accessible online by 2025.
Milestones in 2020
- January 27, 2020: The pilot project kicks off with about 1000 school students in Hesse, Germany.
- April 24, 2020: The project is officially launched on the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform in English and German
- May 7, 2020: 100,000 names are indexed within the first two weeks
- June 13, 2020: One million names have been indexed
- August 13, 2020: The number of registered volunteers hits the 7,000 mark
- October 25, 2020: 1.5 million documents have been indexed
- November 13, 2020: The project is recognized by the anniversary initiative of the Stifterverband (Donors’ Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany) as one of the 100 best ideas for the future of education, science, and innovation. #everynamecounts was chosen from over 500 applications received by the organization.
- December 2020: Planning is underway for the campaign which is to accompany the multi-media installation on 27.1.2021 in Berlin
« My students found the project very meaningful: ‘It’s usually clear what the outcome’s going to be with most things at school, we’re just doing it for the marks. But the work we’re doing here is really going to help someone!’ The material was beautifully thought out and nicely presented. It gave the students a real sense of achievement! »Julia Schweigart, Friedrich Ebert Comprehensive School, Frankfurt
Our future plans for the digital monument
We want to make the project more international in 2021 in order to attract more attention to #everynamecounts. By harnessing the support of volunteers, we aim to make all the documents in the Arolsen Archives available online by 2025. Schools should not be the only target audience – we think #everynamecounts is suitable for companies and institutions too. With this in mind, we intend to promote the campaign as a corporate responsibility project and expand its use to various sectors.
Plans are afoot for the multi-media installation that was shown on the facade of the French Embassy in Berlin to tour various cities. The aim is to bring it to the attention of a large number of people by showing it near to where they live.