Posts Tagged ‘public history’

New online participatory archive and some thoughts about virtual archives

September 12, 2008

The launch of a new website The Times of My Life has just been announced.

Its claims are grandiose (and not just in the tag line…):

The Times of My Life is a ground-breaking website which is set to create a revolution in the way we record our historical past. It will be one of the first ever websites specifically designed to allow users to record first hand accounts of their lives through text, images and video.

Social networking sites have become common place and eight out of ten people who are members of these sites go directly to them when turning on their computers. The Times of My Life is a social networking site and historical reference library rolled into one.

There are other issues with the site; there’s an argument to suggest that the eleven key moments selected, even if by popular vote, present a very narrow and exclusive version of key moments in British history. Why not make some suggestions but let people suggest their own topic areas? It’s a little hard to tell who’s behind the the site as well. There is clearly a grassroots drive (see about us) but but it would be interesting to know more about the ‘academics and IT, web and Media experts’ now backing the site.

But, hyperbole aside, archive theorists and public historians, ourselves included, will be watching with interest how the site develops. When our research project was devised we thoroughly expected to find a lot more of this sort of thing: sites that combined social networking technology and the interest in genealogy/community history, especially in diasporic communities. To our surprise, we didn’t find as much evidence of this as we had hoped. We would still be delighted to hear about examples of any such projects, particularly in so far as they concern diasporic groups. We’d also be keen to know about any research projects exploring this phenomenon; media anthropology is where I’d expect to find such things, as I think there you might find people with interests in both the technology and the dynamics of the human interaction, but does anyone have any examples? But in the meantime, perhaps the virtual community archive (if indeed ‘The Times of My Life’ can be described as a ‘community’ archive?) is beginning to catch on?

From a theoretical point of view I am also fascinated by the explicit links to death (of the founder’s mother) and the kind of redemptive language that appears on the website. It has long been argued that one of the reasons for the continued draw of museums and historic sites (and physical archives) is that they give people something stable (or perceived as stable) to latch on to in an age where the compression of space-time (through the Internet etc.) seems to be resulting in a feeling of loss of control for individuals (I’m thinking of Andreas Huyssen’s Twilight Memories for example). But if the idea of ‘leaving a legacy’ can be transferred to a digital platform perhaps some of this theory needs to be rethought?

Anyone interested in these issues might also consider submitting a proposal to the 2009 Digital Humanities conference (taking place in Maryland, USA), for which our own board member and colleague, Claire Warwick, is the programme chair.

Mary