This session at the 2017 Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference considered how new ways of understanding the relationship amongst memory, state-sponsored history and national identity might be possible in a digital world. In particular, it explored the role of social media and digital technology at memory sites and during commemorative events. This included the forms and articulations of memory that the digital can enable, the publics that might be reached, and whether particular affective intensities can be brought into being by and/or through digital technologies. Papers considered different aspects of the politics and experiences of memory and the state with reference to their articulation in or transformation by the digital world. This included research about the digital – including digital technologies, social media or new forms of representing the past – and research undertaken using new digital methodologies.
#Anzac: Digital, Cloud Commemoration and the Centenary of the First World War
This paper considers how digital technologies, particularly web-based digital media, are shaping the commemorative experiences of Anzac Day. This paper will explore how the digital has translated existing commemorative practices into a new connected world, and how has it transformed personal, social and civil meanings of war commemoration in Australian society within transnational centenary comparison. Through this question, the paper will address wider debates about the meaning and changing character of commemoration in Australia and internationally. It will also enable an exploration of how digital source material could inform research into public responses to the centenary of the FWW, and to war in both its historical and contemporary aspects.
Tom Sear is a PhD student in Cyber Security at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. His PhD explores digital commemoration and the warfare information space (notably interpersonal and social media-based communication) over the last century. It has a particular focus on the convergence and reflexivity between the memory of nodal conflicts from the twentieth century, contemporary war media ecologies and gaming within planetary scale computation. The purpose of this interdisciplinary research is to advise IT specialists, military personnel and educators how to maximize information tools within future conflict, by applying historical, social science and digital theory lenses to the analysis. His expertise also intersects methodologically with Cyber Security. His PhD considers the capacity and methodological impact of new tools
for Information War analysis.
Between ‘Then and Now’ – An Exploration of Commemorative First World War Photography
This paper explores the commemoration of the First World War through the lens of ‘Then and Now’ comparative photography. An inherently spatial medium that links people, their surroundings and the past, photography has always been a key vehicle through which the First World War has reached the British public. One of its most enduring practices has been the ‘then-and-now’ concept, in which the same landscapes – principally located on the former Western Front – were repeatedly ‘captured’ at various time intervals, notably during the late 1920s, and for the conflict’s fiftieth anniversary in the 1960s. This paper explores how these practices and their palimpsest-like qualities, continue to function as dynamic sites of memory, amidst a desire to connect the spatiality of such landscapes with the processes of how they have been depicted, and literally framed, through photography. Drawing upon findings from an ongoing project partnered by the Royal Photographic Society, this paper critically examines the intended use of select images to convey particular narratives over a changing temporal context. Moreover, it considers the recent impact of ever-changing digital technologies – not only that ongoing digitisation projects are enabling unprecedented access, and therefore interaction, with existing photographic resources, but specifically the ways in which such engagements are being defined by ‘Then and Now’ narratives. In so doing, this paper identifies the extent to which photography serves as a remembrance-infused act of ‘witnessing’ within the context of the conflict’s centennial commemorations.
James Wallis is a research fellow at the Universities of Exeter and Brighton. Currently employed on ‘Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning and Legacies for the Future’, he has worked on several post-doctoral First World War-related projects – including affiliations with the ‘Everyday Lives in War’ Public Engagement Centre (University of Hertfordshire) and ‘Living Legacies 1914–18’ (Queens University Belfast). Formerly an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award student at Exeter and Imperial War Museums, his research explores the critical geographies of conflict heritage in a variety of contexts. Recent and ongoing projects examine the relationship between photography and conflict commemoration, and museological interpretations of the First World War. His recent work includes Commemorative Spaces of the First World War: Historical Geography at the Centenary (edited with David Harvey, 2017).
David C. Harvey is an Associate Professor in Critical Heritage Studies at Aarhus Universitet, Denmark, and an Honorary Professor of Historical Cultural Geography at the University of Exeter (UK). His work has focussed on the geographies of heritage, and he has contributed to some key heritage debates, including processual understandings of heritage, extending the temporal depth of heritage, the outlining of heritage-landscape and heritage-climate change relations and the opening up of hidden memories through oral history. His recent works include The Future of Heritage as Climates Change: Loss, Adaptation and Creativity (edited with Jim Perry, 2015), Commemorative Spaces of the First World War: Historical Geography at the Centenary (edited with James Wallis, 2017), and ‘Critical heritage debates and the commemoration of the First World War: productive nostalgia and discourses of respectful reverence’, in Helaine Silverman et al (eds) Heritage in Action (2017).
Mediatised Performative Commemoration from London to Berlin
In this presentation I will introduce my conception of mediatized performative commemoration, as a means to account for an emerging hybrid form of commemoration that bridges digital and non-digital places and practices through a constitutive reliance on mobile digital communication technologies and Web 2.0 and social media platforms. Here mediatization is taken to mean the blurring of individual acts of commemoration, (self)representation and (self)witnessing and performance indicates not only embodied and cognitive acts of remembrance but also these acts’ digital remediation and distribution along with other forms of related online participation. This concept will be detailed with respect to two different case studies. The first case study relates to the Walk Together campaign that marked the 10th anniversary of the 7 July London Bombings in 2015 and the second relates to an action artwork carried out by a Berlin-based art group a couple of weeks earlier called Die Toten Kommen, which responded to the so-called refugee crisis. These cases are explored via what I refer to as their digital gestural remains, online traces of hybrid performances that reveal the embodied energy behind acts of mediatized performative commemoration and their associate affective elements, which are then investigated through a combination of methods including social media (auto)ethnography and digital methods in order to offer insights into broader issues of community and citizenship.
Samuel Merrill is a postdoctoral researcher at Umeå University’s Digital Social
Research Unit and a visiting fellow at the University of London’s Centre for the
Study of Cultural Memory. He has an undergraduate degree in archaeology, a
postgraduate degree in heritage studies and a doctorate in cultural geography. His
PhD thesis was recently awarded the 2014 Peter Lang Young Scholars in Memory
Studies Prize and will be published as Networked Remembrance: Excavating Buried
Memories in the Railways beneath London and Berlin later this year.
Memory sites, emplacement and digital materialities
This paper argues for an approach to memory sites that attends to the potential for particular affective intensities to be brought into being by and through digital screens. In doing so, we draw together recent work on heritage sites and affect with the notion of ‘digital materialities’, which focuses on the role of digital technologies as part of our ongoing and emergent everyday lives. We explore the utility of such a framework through a ‘sensory digital ethnography’ in a national memory site in France, the Camp des Milles, a state memorial and museum where individual memory intersects with local history in an atmospheric built environment. As we will show, it is characterised by particular sensory affordances and personal and historical narratives presented in part through a range of digital elements – which together prompt complex ways of imagining and feeling the past.
Shanti Sumartojo is Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia). Her research investigates how people experience their spatial surroundings, including both material and immaterial aspects, using digital and sensory ethnography and creative practice methodologies. With a particular focus on the built environment and urban public space, this includes ongoing work on memorials and commemorative sites. She is author of Trafalgar Square and the Narration of Britishness (2013), and co-editor of Nation, Memory, and Great War Commemoration (2014) and Commemorating Race and Empire in the Great War Centenary (2017).