Digital Archives: Technologies of Memory and Power

Archives are nodes of Memory, Nostalgia, Remembering and a narrative power. This power is hardly interrogated by the common reader. In this distraction led post truth era, the Archive is hardly a major concern for the listicle reader, mostly of the tech class genealogy.

Billions of data points of perspective and persuasion are circulated through social media through hashtagged debates on contemporary issues. Automated Bot led Propoganda is a critical limiting factor towards authentic conversations online. Or what is authentic in the social media discourse? Social media draws exciting conversations on issues and they do have the power to frame content in real time mode. But, when the issue has died down, the discourse is lost in the dark matter of the cache.

Here is where technology and historical narrative intersect, fuse, deflect in the form of the digital archive. Interesting projects to capture Memory are being curated across the world from Dakota Adventures in Singapore to Jewish Calcutta to an Instagram project to document old Calcutta buildings to the vagaries of real estate sharks.

All of these projects are led by independent scholars and professionals who attempt to disrupt mainstream narratives through voices which would be lost under the bull dozer of late modernity. P Sainath’s People’s Archive of India or PARI is doing a fascinating job to record arts and disappearing languages for the future. The traditional register of the colonial archives is a state driven intellectual project, where these digital archives are decentralised, ‘non state actors’ (pun intended) that are determined to add to history with a small ‘h’.

These Digital archives can suitably be leveraged as vehicles to retain social media conversations which are lost, unless Facebook reminds of them as memories! Algorithms curating memories can be powerful. But, who determines who remembers what, is the curatorial question. This is the operative probe that historians have to deep dive critically, to unearthed biases in the method. Power undergirds instruments/institutions of Memory.

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