Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Housing Memory Conference

Joel A. Blanco-Rivera
PhD Student, University of Pittsburgh

On March 13 and 14 I participated in the conference Housing Memory, hosted at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. The conference was aimed at graduate students and covered a wide variety of topics related to memory and its manifestation in archives, libraries and museums. All the presentations were made by graduate students, at the master and doctoral level, providing an excellent environment to learn and discuss important topics of interest by the new generation of archivists, librarians and museologists. The conference also included the presence of Dr. Geoffrey C. Bowker as the keynote speaker and a round table of faculty from information science and lead by Dr. Jennifer Carter, Assistant Professor in the Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto.

The number of topics was diverse and fascinating: an analysis of Spencer Tunick’s artwork from a museum perspective, the transformation of the print press to the web, memory struggles during transitions in South Africa and Latin America, memory and time capsules, archives and commemoration in the Philippines, documentary film and personal memory. These are just a few examples.

One of the main themes that was constantly part of the presentations and discussions was aspects related to power and control in memory construction. In his presentation about the shift in news production to the web, Bill Mann argued that indeed giant media corporations control what is reported. Trond E. Jacobsen, in his presentation about the Federal Acknowledgement Process, discussed how indigenous groups used records as evidence in their petitions to legitimize their identity as tribal nations.

The round table at the end of the conference provided a very interesting discussion and sharing of ideas between faculty and students. A discussion of particular interest was Dr. Bowker’s argument about memory and forgetting. In his keynote presentation, Bowker argued that, in the particular case of memory and trauma, forgetting should be an option. Indeed, he presented a quote stating that once justice is achieved, forgetting is the best next action. This argument was brought back during the roundtable, in which a student asked the important question of who decides that justice has been served and that it is time to forget.

The conference also highlighted the importance of multidisciplinary work in the field of information science. Not only students in the fields of library, archives and museum were part of the conference, discussions in the various panels touched upon aspects related to memory and information technologies.

A selection of papers presented in this conference will be published at the end of April in the Faculty of Information Quarterly, an open access publication from the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.