New Media, Memory, and the Visual Archive

Fall 2014

VMS 565S

Mark Olson

Wed 10:05am-12:35pm The Wired! Lab

Modern memory is first of all archival. It relies entirely on the specificity of the trace, the materiality of the vestige, the concreteness of the recording, the visibility of the image.
– Pierre Nora, “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire”

Is modern memory, as Pierre Nora claims, archival? If so, then individual and cultural memory might depend crucially on the material technologies of inscription and storage that constitute contemporary archives. New media technologies afford novel ways of recording and archiving the stuff of cultures and societies – narratives, images, ideologies, administrative records, and other forms of information or data.

An emerging body of work, both theoretical and artistic and informed by media studies and visual studies, has begun to interrogate the media-specificity of particular mnemotechnologies. The aim of this course is to engage and extend their work as we explore the impact of new media on the changing nature of archives as technologies of cultural memory and knowledge production.

Our major analytical themes include: medium specificity and the “storage capacity” of new media; the database as cultural form; the body and image as archive; new media and the documentation of “everyday life”; memory, counter-memory and the politics of the archive; archival materiality and digital ephemerality. Our primary focus will be on archives of visual artifacts (image, moving image) but because “there are no visual media” we must consider the role of other sensory modalities (what McLuhan calls differential sense ratios) in the construction of individual, institutional and collective memory.

Drawing on a range of theories and sources, we will examine the “art of memory” (art as technics) embedded in our modes of inscription, archivization, and representation, as well as in theories of mind and learning. At stake are competing claims about the mnemotechnics of new media technologies, contrasting the possibilities and pitfalls of prosthetic (and perhaps posthuman) memory with struggles over the nature of historical memory under digital conditions.