The Limits of Memory

I found this week’s reading assignments interesting because they highlighted that archiving itself can be a revolutionary act. Expanding upon the notion we have been working with that ‘archiving is memory’, the simple act of documenting and archiving populations and events, especially disenfranchised or ‘non-mainstream’ populations, provides a voice for the voiceless within collective ‘memory’. As Caswell states, “Fundamentally to me, the
act of remembering and forgetting is about creating a future in which resources are more equitably distributed. For me, archival labor should be infused with a social justice ethics.” The ‘act of remembering’ is in itself a powerful tool, and a tool the archivist can use to turn ‘memory’ into something more permanent and tangible.

Looking at topics like the Arab Spring or indigenous peoples can give us a look into the type of populations that in an earlier time would be undocumented or even forgotten. In both the analog and digital ages our ability to archive has been limited; limited by technology, by public or private interests, by political or religious taboo, etc. Referring to the Arab Spring Even Hill states, “One broken link at a time, one of the most heavily documented historical events of the social media era could fade away before our eyes”. Just as our human brain is limited in the quantity and detail we can remember, so is our ability to ‘remember’ in our archives – both in analog and digital environments.

One Reply

  • Thanks, Tim. I’m glad these readings resonated for you. While it is true that a more vibrant discourse around archival politics and social justice *has* led more people to consider what voices are marginalized — or how we can respectfully steward the collections of populations whose epistemological values might be different from an orthodox archive — I wouldn’t say these debates belong to an “earlier time”; they’re still very much contested. And yes: the Internet — both because of its material vulnerability *and* its corporate architecture — proves to be a highly volatile “archive”!

    This is your fourth and final post for the semester. Thanks, Tim!

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