Haskins, Ekaterina. "Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a
Digital Age." RSQ 37.4 (2007): 401-422.
Opening premise: public memory work must consider the digital archive.
Haskins writes, "This article proposes to examine memorial functions of the
internet in light of recent scholarly debates about virtues and drawbacks of
modern ‘archival memory’ as well as the paradoxical link between the
contemporary public obsession with memory and the acceleration of amnesia"
Section I: Archival Memory and Its Discontents, 402-405
The curatorial quandary (who does the keeping, why, and who decides what is
preserved) pervades institution-led archiving ventures. Public memory has
throughout the twentieth century merged with monumentality and "narratives of
victory and valor" (403). Digitization confuses the once-tidy roles of the
removed observer-celebrant and the monolithic cast of official memory. Haskins
identifies the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. as an example of a participatory
monument because "its polished black surface reflects the visitor’s image and
its modest scale allows one to reach out and touch the names inscribed on the
wall" (404). Accessible, ongoing participation function to "guard against
the tin dangers of ideological reification and amnesia," Haskins contends (405).
Section II: Promises and Problems of Digital Memory, 405-408
Haskins does not come down firmly in favor of or in doubt of digital memorial
projects in this section, but instead she builds parallel accounts of the
promises ("public engagement," "representational diversity," "collective
authorship," and "interactivity") and problems ("rapid obsolescence,"
compromised "historical consciousness," impermanence). Haskins concludes
this is a "mixed bag," that even while traditional keepers of official memory
are watching as digitization attracts unprecedented energy and interest, digital
archives are not without limitations. Haskins writes, "It is one thing to
collect and digitize large quantities of memorial artifacts; it is quite another
to display them in ways that stimulate not only spectatorship but also
meaningful participation" (408). This is a point worth keying on, even if
"meaningful participation" deserves more unpacking and elaboration.
A brief discussion of blogging as "self-memorialization" appears on 407-408.
Tagging practices as an alternative to the narrowing effect (blogging as
"sav[ing] the most trivial details of one’s past" (407))?
"If archival preservation and retrieval are not balanced by mechanisms that
stimulate participatory engagement, electronic memory may lead to
self-congratulatory amnesia" (407). I am interested in pairing this word of
caution from Haskins with a comment from North: "Composition’s collective fund
of knowledge is a very fragile entity" (2). What are the mechanisms that
would stimulate participatory engagement in "composition’s collective fund of
knowledge"? Wikis? Forums? Tagging? We have systems of archival preservation and
retrieval, but have they been properly balanced? If they have not,
have we, then, experienced anything that could be described as
"self-congratulatory amnesia"? And what are the symptoms of this
"self-congratulatory" variety of amnesia? Too many questions to untangle
right now, but one of the most useable threads (for me) in this article is
counterpart to its discussion of digital archives of such prominent status as
the September 11 Digital Archive (how much monumentality does it inherit from
the affected structures themselves?): take similar propositions to the more
mundane digital archives–those whose participation is not as *P*ublic or
Section III: Between Archive and Public Participation: The September 11
Digital Archive, 408-418
Memorial gestures moved from the streets to online spaces and consisted of an
overabundance of "vernacular" fragments. Here Haskins details the
multi-institution initiative to build the September 11 Digital Archive, a
project that "epitomizes inclusiveness, which is made possible in no small
degree by the interactive capacities of electronic media" (410). There is much
description here of the archive, the various pieces assembled in it (personal
narratives, political interchange, photographs, nostalgia, etc.).
Section IV: Conclusion, 418-419
"Online memorializing, thanks to technology’s capacity for virtually unlimited
storage and potential to engage many diverse audiences in content production,
appears to mitigate against the ideological ossification associated with
official memory practices and the fragility of vernacular memory gestures"