Context and Content – Information and the Archive

“Rather the productive ambiguity of noise emerged from the consideration that it too is information – and precisely unexpected information, an uncanny increment that rolls the dice of randomness within every communicative and calculative transmission…We tend to envision information as perpetually in transit, in social circulation, but in equal degree information accumulates, gets stored and sits there, in some actual or virtual location, awaiting retrieval. What the inscription and storage of information also allows is its manipulation…Stored information becomes a medium out of which – by editing, cutting, reframing, resequencing and so forth – new orders of form can be produced…Media arts remediate information in forms of meaningful noise.” (CTMS, 164)

This weeks readings made me think of an article that I had read a few months ago  by Adele Perry on the archive. The Colonial Archive on Trial: Possession, Dispossession, and History in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (2005).

The archive is one way that we relate to, interact with and remember the past.  Memory has been conceived archivally – whether as a wax tablet, warehouse, library or computer – throughout western culture (Burton 2008, 322).  In the aforementioned,  Adele Perry asks us to think about what archives are, what they contain, what is absent, and why those silences exist.  To do this, Perry uses the 1991 ruling of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia (what would be, with the 1997 ruling, a landmark case in the quest for the recognition and assertion of aboriginal title in Canada, and the first time that oral testimony is accepted and given weight as documentary evidence) as a case study.

A key term in this article  is reality effect. Perry describes this as, “[T]he complex process whereby some history is produced as real and some is rendered invalid or simply invisible” (Perry, 2005, p. 334). The significance of the archival record as a method or practice by which the past is remembered is indicated throughout the article. The justice, McEachern’s, judgement is due to the aforementioned reality effect which suggests that only the official archive – here  described as written, colonial, and masculine –  is to be trusted as the “arbitrator of history” (Perry, 2005, p. 335), as truth. The archive is perceived of in this description as passive and historians as passive custodians of the archival record (Perry, 2005, p. 339).

Memory, however is active, and while about the past, is rooted in the present.  The case study of Delgamuukw  shows “…[T]hat both oral and written history are ‘structured, interpretive and combative” (Perry, 2005, p. 339) and that by recognizing the archive as a space where imagination and interpretation of the past occurs, we can challenge historical methodologies and our assumptions about history. An inadvertent result of McEachern’s ruling is that the judgment in Delgamuukw   would eventually lead to a legal system that acknowledged the legitimacy of the aboriginal oral archive, and  the case itself produced an indigenous archive  (from submission of documents, trial interviews, etc). This creation of an indigenous archive places emphasis on the act of remembering and memory as both an active, creative space rooted in the present.

Our perception of the archive as static, neutral, and unbiased is to be unaware of the underlying factors that are a part of its construction, reconstruction, or degeneration. Adele Perry asks us to “interrogate our assumptions” (CTMS, 155)much as is discussed this week – in how we understand, relate to and perceive ‘new media’ and concepts of memory and knowledge creation.

Lastly, this is a project that I thought was interesting and related to the material this week:



Featured image is Mike Bell’s Heartbreaker. 

“The fundamental duality that drives media innovation has often taken the form of myth” (CTMS – 173), also I just love Frankenstein.




Add yours Comments – 1

  • Fantastic post Maggie–I love this article and think it gets to the heart of the politics of information and how they play out in sites of power like the archive. I really appreciate your discussion and the way you are using the course readings/theory to engage with works like this. I think that the issues that Perry raises are even more complicated by digital networks and archives, which replicate, amplify, and sometimes subvert normative (and usually colonial) systems for managing knowledge/information.

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