I’ve spent some time over the past few months reading about memory and archives. Some of my jumbled, rambling notes follow here, and in subsequent posts.
The study of media is important for the archivist, because records are media formations, and in order preserve and provide access to them it is vitally important to understand them as media. Media technologies such as the web enable certain conceptions of the archive, and these archival ideas are folded back into the technologies themselves. The records and technologies of the record co-produce each other. Cox (2004) for example thinks that studying record technologies is a necessary part of being an archivist:
Records and record-keeping systems hae always been connected with technology, and the technologies do not have to be very sophisticated (think of credit cards). Pencil, paper, and carbon paper have had substaintial impact on how records are created and maintained, suggesting that archivists and historians need to study and understand these record-keeping systems and their implications.
Cox (2004), p. 203
Hoskins (2018a) concept of sharing without sharing is an idea drawn from social media interaction where we actively share content on the web, often without a specific individual or set of individuals in mind. There is not a definite, circumscribed recipient of the sharing:
It is not easy to grasp the digital’s transformation of memory. For in our oddly called “participatory” digital media culture, the dominant form of sociality is something I can “sharing without sharing”. This is to signal individuals and groups feel active in an array of connective practices such as posting, linking, liking, recording, swiping, scrolling, forwarding, etc., digital media content, and yet do so compulsively, constituting a new coercive multitude that does not debate but rather digitally emotes (as in via emoticons). Sharing in this way is nothing like an act underpinned by the values of equity and unselfishness, but rather is more a matter of an obligation to participate, and to reciprocate, underpinned by a set of digitally fostered values.
Hoskins thinks that this behavior of sharing without sharing is part of a general shift he calls the connective turn:
the sudden abundance, pervasiveness, and immediacy of digital media, communication networks and archives–forces a view unprecedented in history. This turn drives an ontological shift in what memory is and what memory does, paradoxically both arresting and unmooring the past.
The idea of sharing-without-sharing itself also suggests a parallel archival movement of remembering-without-remembering, archives-without-archives or as Hoskins calls it, the shadow archive which quietly accumulates as we share, without our knowledge or intervention.
The archive has traditionally been seen (like other media) as separate and external to the self, as something with institutional status, as variously a place and space for the storage of artefacts of the past that give rise to remembering. Yet, the medial gathering and splintering of individual, social and cultural imaginaries, increasingly networked through sortable and pervasive digital media and communication devices, attach shadow archives to much of everday life, that also blend and complicate that which was once considered as distinctly public and private.
The new technologies of memory and their availability have ushered in a post-scarcity memory landscape which Hoskins calls the “third memory boom” in which the materials of history are super abundant, and where ideologies such as open access, freedom of information and full text search define how we think about memory. He talks more about this in Hoskins & O’Loughlin (2010) which is probably worth getting a hold of. This idea also connects with older conceptions of archival abundance as in Ham (1984).
Media have long been instrumental in the settling of history: the selective restorative process through which societies generate their history: rediscovery plus translation (and remediation) through the representational, archival, and circulatory technologies, discourses and witnesses of the day.
What Hoskins is attempting to get at here is that our digital media (e.g. our individual and collective uses of social media) are shaping our ideas of memory, in similar ways that writing and broadcast media shaped the earlier two epochs of memory. In an interesting twist Hoskins also references the containment model of Pettitt (2009) which suggests that our use of material artifacts as memory devices of various kinds (tablets, scrolls, books, cds) are in fact a parenthesis, or bracketing, and that what came before and now comes after are modes of memory that are networked and resist containment (Hoskins, 2018a, pp. 12–13).
Also at play are different notions of scale. Memory scholars tended to divide along disciplinary boundaries to distinguish between individual memories (the realm of the cognitive psychologist) and collective memory (the realm of the soiologist or anthropologist). Olick (1999)’s idea of collected memory reconciles this dichotomy by focusing the attention on individuals memories, and how they are amassed, because memories are held by people. These individual memories are then collected via various means to form larger bodies of interconnected memories, which may (or may not) form coherent collective memories.
Treating collective memory – as well as collective identity – in this way thus resists the witting or unwitting adoption of certain ideological categories, particularly those that make demands on the individual (e.g., nationalism).
Olick (1999), p. 339
Hoskins suggests that the “attention of the multitude” has now ended collective memory, because of the hyperconnected nature of our digital memories. I’m not sure that hyperconnectivity in the hypertext sense works for characterizing the difference that digital technologies have introduced into the memory landscape. Specific platforms tend to link well internally, but don’t always link externally across the web so well. An exploration of why this would be (market forces) and counter-examples (e.g. Wikipedia, to some extent Twitter) could be useful here. This idea that the digital memory landscape is different now does feel correct because of the so called 3 Vs (volume, velocity and variety) that characterize big data (Laney, 2001). I think it could be argued that archives have always had to deal with large volumes of information, it is why appraisal even became a thing, and it’s what’s big is always relative to what has come before. On some level archives have dealt with variety of materials as well, especially if we heretically think of archival work in terms of broader memory work (libraries, archives and museums). But it does seem that the velocity of data is what is markedly different, and not just the speed but the vector itself … the points of origin and the destinations are greatly expnaded with the digital.
Both Olick and Pettit seems like interesting leads to follow up on. This idea that media technologies shape how memory functions, and the very idea of memory itself, remind me of a citation I ran across in Bowker (2005) to Yates (1993) (more on this soon), who looks at the way that office technologies shaped modes of communication in business. Yates was also a frequent collaborator with Orlikowski, who has done a lot of work establishing a sociotechnical perspective on communications. It makes me wonder in what ways can memory be thought of as a communicative practice? Much like in sharing-without-sharing the materials of memory, the shards and pieces of things are often stored away without always knowing how or who they are going to be articulated by to create a memory.
Also, I really need to spend some time scanning the table of contents of Memory Studies issues … and do a more thorough search of how issues of memory intersect with HCI and CSCW literature. The traditional wisdom is that memory studies is happening in so many places that it’s very difficult to get a handle on, but I need to try.
Bowker, G. C. (2005). Memory practices in the sciences (Vol. 205). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Cox, R. J. (2004). No innocent deposits: Forming archives by rethinking appraisal. Scarecrow Press.
Ham, F. (1984). Archival choices: Managing the historical record in an age of abundance. The American Archivist, 47(1), 11–22.
Hoskins, A. (Ed.). (2018a). Digital memory studies: Media pasts in transition. Routledge.
Hoskins, A. (2018b). Digital memory studies: Media pasts in transition. In A. Hoskins (Ed.) (pp. 85–109). Routledge.
Hoskins, A., & O’Loughlin, B. (2010). War and media. Polity.
Laney, D. (2001). 3D data management: Controlling data volume, velocity and variety. META Group Research Note, 6(70).
Olick, J. K. (1999). Collective memory: The two cultures. Sociological Theory, 17(3), 333–348.
Pettitt, T. (2009). Containment and articulation: Media technology, cultural production and the perception of the material world. In Gutenberg parenthesis research forum. University of Southern Denmark.
Yates, J. (1993). Control through communication: The rise of system in american management (Vol. 6). Johns Hopkins University Press.