Digital Archives and Global Modernism

This week’s readings helped me have a better idea of how digital archive studies intersect with Global Modernism I strived to connect with in the class last week; I still need to work more how I can tightly connect these two, though. 

The raison d’être of archives is, in part, to preserve and protect materials within, but the making of it inevitably betrays a loss that entails the process of selection on what to preserve and what to discard. Digital archives, however, have opened a space for those whose voices have been ignored, whose places have been insecure, and whose identities have not been recognized. Voss & Werner state that “the architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interiors suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders” (), which emphasizes the exclusive aspect of the traditional archives. They say that the technology archive “encourages us to reimagine its dimensions” so that “heteroglossic citations” can be included in archives as parts of them and have due attention. With the term, “rogue archives,” De Kosnik argues that the digital space, filled with archives created by individuals who are marginalized and often underappreciated in the central hegemonic discourse, enables the minority groups to “construct repositories that are accessible by all internet users, and can choose to preserve either vast quantities of information…or highly specific materials…that have been consistently excluded or ignored by traditional memory institutions” (2). By having a space to voice their opinions and to build a community with people of the same interest, they have the opportunity to empower themselves by decentralizing the existing hierarchy and by “insert[ing] into history” (17).

Global Modernism is also about shifting the prevailing, European-centered, perspective on Modernism to reposition it as a part of the global phenomena. The scholars of GM argue that modernism developed in various locations across the globe in response to the modernity, but there is a time difference when different places experienced modernity, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that modernisms in other locals are derivative of Western modernism. Global Modernists on Modernism: An Anthology states that “Modernism has always been global, and this global disposition inextricable from the radically unequal power relations that characterize modernity itself.” Just like Voss, Werner, and De Kosnik emphasize the importance of the digital archives that can de/reconstruct the hierarchy, GM is also focusing on repositioning modernist studies in the larger, global context to include so far neglected and underestimated local modernisms. 


I love this entry from Seona and wholeheartedly agree. Digital archives are not only an amazing space to allow for margainalized communities to reclaim and preserve their cultures, but they are instrumental in decolonization; moving away from popular, harmful Eurocentric narraitives that pervade too many Western cultural institutions.

De Kosnik's focus on the importance of digital archives was very refreshing, and I agree she is absoultely correct in stating that rogue archives bring about the "possibility for subcultural and marginalized groups to have archives of their own, on digital networks, constructed and operated by members of their communities, instead of (or in addition to) lobbying traditional memory institutions for recognition and admission of their cultural materials" (De Kosnik, 10.) However, I feel as though De Kosnik slightly missed the mark in her writing. She pretty boldly claims "digital cultural memory starts with the fact that 'memory institutions,' such as libraries, museums, and archives, understand their mission to be the keeping and transmission of 'cultural memory,' usually meant in a vernacular rather than an academic way" (De Kosnik, 26) as if these "memory institutions" truly reflect the proper cultural context of the objects they house. I think it is important to note that many institutions including–an example from this article by The Atlantic–the Royal Museum for Central Africa, possess objects that are not from their culture. Therefore, their mission, as De Kosnik claims, of "preserving cultural memory...ensuring that significant artifacts representing the histories of the wider cultures in which they, the institutions, operate, are accessible by successive generations" (De Kosnik, 26) is not as pure as it may seem. In fact, many institutions containing objects from cultures beyond the ones in which they operate warp reality to fit the narrative of the outtdated notion that colonizers brought "civilization" to foreign lands.

Museums like the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium promote dangerous narratives with inscriptions like Adam Hochschild's example from his piece in The Atlantic "Belgium Brings Civilization to the Congo.” De Kosnik captures in her piece the exact reason why I call that dangerous. She quotes Guy Pessach, who states memory institutions are "social entities that...canonize elements of humanity's culture, historical narratives, individual and collective memories" (Pessach 2008, 73) This canonization of ideas that colonizers "civilized" other cultures allows erroneous, damaging stereotypes to be taught as fact to generation after generation, and it's something that needs to end. That is why, while we can and should celebrate "rogue archives,"  we must remember that they are doing more than simply preserving their cultures. They are helping dismantle centuries of injustice that occurred in cultural institutions around the world, and close to home.