Remembering and Forgetting in the Digital Age

A joint research venture between the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen, the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and the Center for Information Technology, Society, and Law (ITSL) at the University of Zurich resulted 2018 in the publication of a new book: Remembering and Forgetting it the Digital Age, edited by Florent Thouvenin, Peter Hettich, Herbert Burkert and Urs Gasser.

Today, ever more information is digital. Much of it is readily available and the storage has become easier and cheaper. Yet, digital information within networks is vulnerable; continuous curation is needed to preserve its on-going availability. These aspects of the digital data ecosphere is going to produce a new balance between remembering and forgetting.

This shift precipitated a debate in politics, society and science. Viktor Mayer- Schoenberger’s book delete provided an important contribution to the discussion about the “right to be forgotten”. The European Court of Justice confirmed such a right: the European data protection law had to be adjusted. The recent enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation by the EU Parliament acknowledged and expanded this right.

Several political changes led to a process reflecting on what to remember and what to forget about one’s national history. To mention just one example: Remembering and forgetting are still affecting the relations between Japan, South Korea and China to this day. The politics of memory play an important role in a country’s identity and the way it is seen in the world community.

But also, private organizations are facing challenges to memorize. Not only have they often been involved in crises of national memories, but also the requirements of the modern information state have created an increasing amount of recording duties and information preservation obligations.

The law has to take into account how individuals, organizations and the state are remembering. Information technology has brought new dynamics to the interrelations between memory and law. Digitization, storage technology and retrieval led Mayer-Schoenberger to the conclusion that extensive recording and keeping was becoming a social normality. How is this affecting traditional archiving? And what would it mean for the protection of privacy?

Do the digital technologies require a new perspective on the interrelation between memory and law? To what extent should social steering mechanisms be adapted to meet the challenges? To address these and related questions, this publication combines three aspects: law, technology, and interdisciplinary perspectives that bring together a variety of authors who survey various areas of the interplay between memory, technology and social intervention from their own unique disciplinary perspective.

The issues of the book are extremely relevant. The article by Christoph Graf, the former director of the Swiss Federal Archives, is particularly interesting for measuring the tension between the new European law on the protection of privacy and requirements for archiving. I have repeatedly addressed similar issues for the digital humanities and the digital historiography, respectively; I would like to mention here three of them: Big Data in History; Forget it!? Erinnerung und historische Sinnbildung in der „breiten Gegenwart“; Geschichte Digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen.

The Digital Culture – An Exciting Essay by Felix Stalder on Post-Democracy and Commons

50 years ago, Marshall Mc Luhan called out the end of modernity. Since then, cultural opportunities have multiplied enormously. Today, this change produces a culture of the digital. The internet is a medium with specific forms of culture and exchange.

Three of them are characteristic:

  • Referentiality – the use of existing material for the production of cultural objects;
  • Communality – resources are made accessible and meanings are stabilized through a collective frame;
  • The principle of algorithms – automated decision-making reduces information overload.

The aim of Stalder’s essay is to identify and describe two political tendencies in the digital culture: Post-democracy and commons. Digitality points to historically new possibilities for linking human and non-human actors. Find here a summary of the very interesting book of Felix Stalder.

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The connectedness of things

Sebastian Giessmann has published a book on the cultural history of networks. The network was formerly bound up with things – spider webs, fishing nets or traffic nets, to mention just a few. For some years now, it has been linked to the virtual world of social networks. Find here a short cut of and some remarks to this exciting book. Continue reading

The “Data Deluge” or “Science in the Archives”

The University of Chigaco Press 2017 published an interesting book: Science in the Archives, edited by Lorraine Daston. It shows that “the past can be a treasure trove of material vital to present and future research”: data banks assembled by geneticists; weather diaries trawled by climate scientists; libraries visited by historians. The book discusses episodes in the history of geology, genetics, philology, climatology, medicine, and more. Thoroughly exploring the practices, it “reveals the essential historical dimension of the sciences” including the use of Big Data. Continue reading

A Digital History Lab at the University of Zurich?

The University of Zurich is developing a Digital Society Initiative (DSI) to engage with the impact of digital technology that should be studied historically. Monika Dommann, Martin Dusinberre and Gesine Krüger therefore plan to establish a History Lab within this Initiative. They argue that digital history should have to play a key role there because Big Data, surveillance, privacy, access rights and the circulation of cultural artefacts and other digitally mediated social interaction demand a deep historical understanding. Find here a short cut of the concept.

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Oral History of the Digital Humanities and the Work of Roberto Busa

What are the Digital Humanities (DH)? This question of a quite long standing debate is treated in a new open access book in the Springer Series on Cultural Computing: Computation and the Humanities, Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn of the Department of Information Studies at the University College London (UCL) state that the DH form an interface between computing and cultural heritage. They believe that DH transforms the objects and the methods of studying them. They did oral history to know more about this.

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Open Library of Humanities

The Open Library of Humanities is a multi-journal platform for the humanities. It is funded by a worldwide library consortium of more than 200 libraries.

The Journal accepts articles from various disciplines such as ancient science, philosophy, political science and sociology, and naturally, history, too. The submitted articles are subject to a peer-review procedure. There is an anti-plagiarism checking, too.

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Local report

A edition project of the Swiss Literary Archives, the Cologne Center for eHumanities (CCeH) and the Swiss National Science Foundation

Hermann Burger (1942-1989) wrote his first novel between 1970 and 1972. It remained unpublished until recently. The manuscript is kept in Swiss Literary Archives.

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New Book: Reading Historicial Sources in the Digital Age

bild-reading-historical-sources-in-the-digital-ageClose reading or Distant reading: A new book of proceedings entitled “Reading Historical Sources in the Digital Age” («Lire des sources historiques à l’ère numérique») has just been published. The contributions of this volume base on selected papers presented at the conference of the University of Luxembourg held in 2013.

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Hybridity and Historiography – A Tricky Couple!

Things have power to act, Bruno Latour says. This French author alternates between natural science, social science and philosophy. For him, who founded the influential actor-network-theory (ANT), computer and their programs are hybrids between the linguistic and the real. In the language of ANT, he calls them Aktanten.

Things unfold their power because they are connected with people.

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Digitization is not research: Theories and practices in the Digital Humanities

L.I.S.A., the scientific platform of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, on July 14, 2016 published a report of the outcome of a symposium that was organised by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and held in the Villa Vigoni in Menaggio at the beautiful Lake of Como, May 26 to 29, 2016. The Villa Vigoni is an instution that “fosters the relationships between Italy and Germany in the fields of scientific research and culture in a European perspective”. Literature was in the focus of the symposium.

The interesting, quite long report was published in German by Julia Menzel: Theorien und Praktiken des Digitalen in den Geisteswissenschaften. Here an English short cut and some comments and links: Continue reading

Clio Guide. A guide to digital resources for historical science

Clio online, the professional portal of the historical sciences in Germany recently published a new manual. It maps the field of digital history including institutional infrastructures and tools. The aim is a practical one: To give a fact-based introduction to the state of digital professional information and an overview of the most important tools and instruments. Thus, it is aimed at both students and teachers, as well as to researcher and historians who need an introduction to the state of the professional information for their area of research.

The guide is structured along the following issues: Digital working methods and techniques, collections, epochs, regions and topic.

The guide is in German and edited by Laura Busse, Wilfried Enderle, Rüdiger Hohls, Gregor Horstkemper, Thomas Meyer, Jens Prellwitz and Annette Schuhmann. You find it here:

Digital History delayed

Digital History is a trend in Switzerland, too. But, its position is not yet a solid one. This becomes evident, if we check the program of the fourth edition of the Historical Days in Switzerland, June 9 to 11, 2016, in Lausanne. Only two panels explicitly discuss digital media and methods: Jan Hodel, Mareike König and Nadine Fink present cases of how historians work with social media. And Anne Jobin, Hannes Mangold, Stefanie Prezioso and Valérie Schafer present the power of algorithms in historical social practices as the dragnet investigation in Switzerland, the regulation of information in France and the search for episodes and their perception in the case of World War I. It will be interesting to hear the comment of Nicolas Cachereau and follow the discussion moderated by Enrico Natale and Christiane Sibille.

In German-speaking countries, the skepticism about these new methods is still quite large, as can be read in an article of Urs Hafner in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of May 27, 2016. Amongst other, he refers to my new book Geschichte digital – Historische Welten neu vermessen. Please find here an English short cut of the book.