An Interview with Modern European Studies Alum

Charlotte Gibbs graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2021 as a double major in History and Modern European Studies. In Summer 2021, she participated in the Witnessing Auschwitz Go Global Seminar with Dr. Bożena Karwowska, which was one of the highlights of her time at UBC. CENES Department Head Dr. David Gramling spoke with Charlotte about her current academic pursuits, her time in CENES, and her hopes for the future.

What are you doing now?

I’m at the University of Toronto completing my MA in History. I’m also doing a collaborative specialization in Jewish Studies.

How did your Modern European Studies degree at UBC help you prepare for what you’re doing now?

In my current research, I’m looking at how women in Auschwitz portrayed Blackness in their testimonies and memoirs. Memoir as historical document has been contested in the discipline, but because of my literary studies in Modern European Studies, I was well set up to do historical analyses of literary sources, which is very exciting for me.

Doing a history degree and a literature degree and using the interrelationship to examine each discipline’s analytical presumptions sounds inspiring. As an early career scholar of memoir, what is your emerging take on memoir-as-document?

Sometimes people can be too critical of the historical accuracy of memoir. Sometimes Auschwitz memoirs mention the figure of Dr. Mengele, and they often mention that he was the one who did their “selections,” but historical documents show that he didn’t perform them often if ever, so it’s more about what does the mention of Mengele signal to us, what historical facts come from that signaling, rather than merely that the mentioning itself might be inaccurate.

History as a discipline, as well as Holocaust Studies, is moving to centre voices who have not been listened to previously. The discipline was trained to use perpetrator documents, but using these voices of survivors allows us to get away from conventional narratives and learn from those who haven’t been included in the historical narrative before.

What could the CENES Department have done differently to help you prepare for your current role?

One part of the Modern European Studies program that prepared me for History was that I did take three years of German at UBC. That really served me well in my research… I think if there had been more of an opportunity to do translation work, that would be a helpful applicable skill. Most students, I’m told, don’t get the tone or subtle meanings when translating — it’s definitely a new skill for me!

As an early career scholar, what does “Modern European Studies” mean to you?

One way that the field is evolving in this moment is toward decolonial approaches that see Europe as one participating part of a global history, seeing Europe in the way the world saw Europe — so not from a favorable perspective. It’s great to be a young scholar in this time, seeing how people are manifesting these approaches in their work.

What are your future plans and hopes?

I want to do my PhD! Working in History and the Digital Humanities is really important to me, but I think it’s also important to be open to the possibilities of new roles that may not have existed even a few years ago, or that I don’t know about. It’s just really exciting to be a student right now, because you never quite know what’s going to come for you! Ask me again in ten months.