Digital archives, history, and memory

The imperative of the age is not only to keep everything, to preserve every sign (even when we are not quite sure what it is we are remembering), but also to fill archives…The sheer mass of material changes the significance and status of the archive. It is no longer a more or less intentional record of actual memory but a deliberate and calculated compilation of a vanished memory.    –Pierre Nora, “Paper Memory,” 1984

Stuffing the archive indiscriminately because of the facile nature of data storage, we do so with the expectation that images, songs, stories, manuscripts, film, will all be easily retrievable. It’s difficult to know what gets lost, and equally difficult to know how to sort through what remains. In the frame of the memory/history binary, I’d be interested in a conversation about the roles we might play in making sense of digital archives in the hope that meaningful documents remain not only accessible but also of interest. Where history was once told by the victors, in what ways might history now be told by search terms and their top results? If the archive becomes unmanageable, how can we know what to preserve and point to? How is this dilemma different from a pre-digital era, and are there tactics from the past that can be recovered and adapted?

Categories: General, Proceedings of THATCamp |
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About Linda Levitt

I find myself looking at and engaging in intersections—my primary research is at the intersection of media studies and cultural memory, my teaching aspires to always embrace hybrid pedagogy, and my intent is to always begin by thinking as a public intellectual, at the intersection of lived experience and the workings of academia.