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.

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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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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Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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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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Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Digital Humanities – Limits and Possibilities: A New Journal in Germany

The new German Zeitschrift für Digitale Geisteswissenschaften (Journal for Digital Humanities) of the Forschungsverbund Marbach, Weimar and Wolfenbüttel, supported by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung in its first volume discusses limits and possibilities of the Digital Humanities.

The editors, Constanze Baum and Thomas Stäcker, want to present theories, methods and projects of the Digital Humanities in the German speaking part of Europe. Not all texts are already available. But what is there is really interesting – here a small selection of articles:

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Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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The Future of Yesterday: Scientific publishing after the Digital Revolution

In his new Essay, Valentin Groebner, Professor for Medieval history, asks about the possibilities of digital media and the historical perspective that could teach us about their chances and risks.

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Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Pamphlet No 6 – Between Distant and Close reading

Franco Moretti explains the “Operationalizing” of Distant reading in an interesting pamphlet from the Stanford Literary Lab (see below). Operationalization is a process that transforms a concept into a series of operations. This in turn makes it possible to measure objects. In an empirical approach to literature we measure the space which a character occupies in a text. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Any room left for freedom in a programmed world? – Vilém Flusser and the Digital Humanitites

Now, if one accepts the basic thesis that the world is experienced, recognized and evaluated in the network of codes, […].

Flusser thinks history as a sequence of codes of an alphabetical order. This suggests a linear historical world. In contrast, Flusser sees the computer as a phenomenon of post-history. It dissolves structural oppositions such as subject and object, nature and culture. Now adays this Decentration is seen as a network phenomena. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Forget it !? Memory and the formation of historical meaning in the “broad presence”

Summary of my Intervention at the Colloquium of the University of Lucerne, Zeit-Geschichte-Unterricht, 7. November 2014

Link to the original german manuscript http://bit.ly/1svdpMg

The intervention wants to make the audience familiar with questions about the current understanding of time and its consequences for history. It examines the assumption of HansUlrich Gumbrecht, according to which we live in a “broad presence”. For that, the intervention presents 4 Tableaux from which it structures the material [1] for three theses. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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The Thinking follows the Data

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine of 12th March 2014, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht writes that the humanities are helpless towards the digital revolution. That we must invent new terms to get along with it. That our traditional concepts and ways of thinking are opposed to it – which means that its development and  influence have drifted out of the reach of our intellectual and scientific analysis. Gumbrecht believes, that now only we see the whole significance of the thoughts of Jacques Derrida and those about The Truth of the Technical World of Friedrich Kittler. Gumbrecht forgets to mention Foucault’s L’archéologie du savoir, here. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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The economics of writing (and publishing)

Michel de Certeau, Kunst des Handelns, Berlin 1988

Review for the Digital Humanities

The art of acting, L’Invention du quotidien – Arts de faire, respectively, as the book is originally called, has long been an insider tip. Its author, a french historian and Jesuit, working inter alia in the Americas, tried to translate back to Europe much of what anthropologists have written into the new world. He worked on a mystique that in part can be used for the legend of the Digital Humanities, too: Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Do We still need History? And if so: Why?

Reinhart Koselleck, Vom Sinn und Unsinn der Geschichte, Berlin 2010

A short cut and a remark for the Digital Humanities

The historical sciences since quite a long time have been in crisis, Reinhart Koselleck, the famous German historian, writes in his essay “Wozu noch Geschichte?”. He asks about the theoretical possibilities of history – questions that can be used also for the Digital Humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Hybridity, a cultural and scientific model for the future

Yvonne Spielmann, Hybridkultur, Berlin 2010

A brief summary and a few theories for the Digital Humanities

Hybrid culture correlates and fuses elements from different media, cultural contexts and discourses. The decisive factor here: Networks change the direction and speed of communication and information. They allow the creation of a public sphere simultaneously anywhere (to that, see my posts about the question of place and time in the Digital Humanities). What criteria should be used to identify and evaluate the medial construction of reality in its constant variability? Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Digital_Humanities: THE Book!

Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp, Digital_Humanites, Cambridge 2012

A short cut and some remarks

“Two decades ago, working with digital documents was the exception. Today it is the norm” – Anne Burdick and her co-authors write; and: “If the humanities are to thrive and not just exist in niches of privilege, they will have to visibly demonstrate the contributions to knowledge and society they are making in the digital era”. This extremely interesting book from the MIT studies emerging methods and genres, cases as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), new textual corpuses and virtual reconstructions, deals with “the social life of the Digital Humanities”, confronts us with some “provocations” and ends with a short practical guide to the emerging Digital Humanities. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Jean-François Lyotard, Delegitimization and Digital Humanities

Jean-François Lyotard, „Die Delegitimierung“, in : Geschichte schreiben in der Postmoderne, Stuttgart 1994

Review with respect to digital humanities (avant la lettre)

In the post-industrial society, in postmodern culture, knowledge becomes legitimized in a new way. Great, speculative and emancipating narratives have lost their credibility. These stories of the 19th century carry in themselves the seed of this loss in the 20thcentury. To give an example: the speculative story, as we know it from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, is in itself sceptical about the possibility of positive findings. Positive science is not knowledge, its legitimacy is denied because the discourse, which should legitimize it, is based on pre-scientific notions. The crisis of scientific knowledge results from the erosion of legitimacy. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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Foucault revisited for the Digital Humanities

Michel Foucault, L’archéologie du savoir, Gallimard, 1969

Review with respect to digital humanities (avant la lettre)

Also historians have succumbed to the temptations of structuralism. For quite some time now, they have not been working with events anymore, but with developments, including those of longue durée, as Ferdinand Braudel has called them. Michel Foucault speaks of deposits, layers, which are being investigated: For example the history of the cereal or the gold mines, of starvation or growth. In such a history we are no more talking about chains of events, but about series types and periodization. Continue reading

Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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