Placeless Memories

14 July 2017, Bowland Auditorium, Humanities Research Centre, University of York

This one-day conference aims to open up discussion on the nature of memory and identity construction online and in digital formats, and explore issues concerning the use of these digital memories as a resource for scholars.

The Internet is becoming an everyday space where identities and memories are not only stored, but also shaped and negotiated. User-generated content from websites and OSNs (online-social-networks) is often considered in opposition to authorised or official forms of knowledge (academic, published, or governmental sources) and has been dismissed as frivolous, unmediated, and apparently spontaneous. There is, however, also growing interest in how user-generated content might be used in conjunction with more official forms of knowledge to interrogate the ways in which individuals conceive, communicate, and negotiate national and local histories, memories, and identities. The Internet draws people from different cultural, national, and political backgrounds into dialogue, precipitating both acrimonious clashes and productive knowledge exchange, and creating a deterritorialised forum for the articulation and construction of memory.

This under-researched area is of particular importance in an increasingly digital age, and is also timely given recent media interest in online responses to the destruction of physical sites in the Middle East and North Africa. These acts have been met by efforts to digitally preserve threatened places and objects through programs such as The Million Image Database or the crowd-sourced Facebook group Palmyra 3D Model, highlighting the role that rapidly developing technologies might play in education and preservation.  Our challenge, however, is to consider the Internet not just as a tool for preserving histories, but as an emergent space where diverse memories and identities are actively shaped, contested, and negotiated in the present moment by a wide variety of different stakeholders. For the disciplines of history, media studies, memory studies, tourism studies, and critical heritage studies, the ways in which events with global reach have been hotly debated in vastly different guises across a range of online forums is of central significance.