Creating the ‘virtual’ witness: the limits of empathy

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses two interactive exhibits – The National Holocaust Centre and Museum’s ‘The Forever Project’ and the Shoah Foundation’s ‘New Dimensions in Technology’ – which have created digital versions of Holocaust survivors who will respond to visitors’ questions, with the intention of creating meaningful ‘interactions’ with these survivors long after the ‘biological’ witnesses have passed away. It argues that the formal qualities of these ‘virtual witnesses’ have cognitive and emotional associations that inhibit viewer empathy: first, since the digital avatar is a form normally associated with games and play, participants may consciously or subconsciously ‘test’ the limits of this interactive technology; second, people use vocal commands to interact with the avatar, much like ‘virtual assistants’ found on personal digital devices; and third, their ‘uncanny valley’ appearance is affectively disturbing. It concludes by querying as to the use of these and other technologies for memorial exhibits.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1954980
Pages (from-to)2
Number of pages17
JournalMuseum Management and Curatorship
Issue number1
Early online date20 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Holocaust studies
  • Memory studies
  • empathy
  • comemmoration
  • avatars
  • holograms


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