Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s post comes from a new regular writer for I&A’s blog, Summer Espinoza. Summer is the digital archivist at California State University, Dominguez Hills where she is working on a California State University Archives project.
The archives’ role in collective memory making is hardly a new topic, but how does that translate into actual social concepts? The article “History, Society, and Institutions: The Role of Collective Memory in the Emergence and Evolution of Societal Logics” in the Academy of Management Review (2016) theorizes that archival documents have something to do with what emerges as widely accepted logic.
In their article, authors Ocasio, Mauskapf, and Steele define the various concepts, occurrences, documents, archives, and historical events, that lead to the formation of societal logics. Societal logics itself is defined by the authors as “historically constituted cultural structures generated through the collective memory of historical events.” Some of the more widely accepted societal logics are defined in the following categories: family, religion, the state, the market, professions, community, and corporation.
In this model, occurrences yield documents, some of which make it to archives, and historical events are where it all comes together. Historical events are created through the retrieval and interpretation of materials in the archives on a larger scale. What we archivists do in our classification, general handling, and other processing activities is create metanarratives. To Ocasio, Mauskapf, and Steele, these metanarratives are the foundation for the creation and normalization of societal logics. Metanarratives can create both common and conflicting stories or perspectives of historical events; again, historical events are the retrieval and analysis of materials in the archives.
In their larger hypothesis, the authors trace the beginnings and acceptance of institutions formed from historical events and societal logics. Some examples include business models and companies created during the Civil War, the transcontinental railroad’s effect on collective memory and corporate logic, and legal cases affecting the interpretation of law.
Sure, this is a great elevator speech – “my work affects societal logics” – but can we really look to historical practices in the archives to continue this hypothesized influence of archival processes in the creation of metanarratives, historical events, and societal logics? What do the effects of self-publishing and even the stronger influences of “the self” in 2018 societal logics have on archival resources human and otherwise? Are archivists really “in the game” now, or are there other professions with more agile processes who will maintain historical events?
Will strong, and sometimes conflicting metanarratives of movements like #metoo, #takeaknee, and #marchforourlives be sought as historical documents in archives? In Kenneth E. Foote’s 1990 article “To Remember and Forget” in The American Archivist similarly acknowledges the temporal and spatial bridges archives support in collective memory. In this same article though, Foote acknowledges radical historian Howard Zinn’s 1970 statement that archivists neglect collections outside mainstream society. Here we are as a Society of American Archivists, forty years later, identifying non-mainstream collection-building as “radical” and “inclusive.” That is not to say that mainstream societal logics haven’t changed and grown as well.
Collective memory, as a concept of study, is multidisciplinary and wide-ranging. In their article, “The Memory Remains: Understanding Collective Memory in the Digital Age” in Science Advances (2017), the authors observe that the Internet, and more broadly, digital technologies, has impacted the way in which occurrences are recorded and also the Internet’s impact on the way in which collective memory – and therefore societal logics in the longer term – can be observed and measured “at-scale.” Where do and when do archivists and archives meet information systems professionals and data scientists to be relevant in data-driven or digital societal logics? How do such studies impact the theorization that societal logics are derived from metanarratives interpreted and analyzed by historical events in the archives? Perhaps there is a future in theory-building in archives for such interdisciplinary work on a larger scale.
I hope in this small attempt to take a peek outside of my day-to-day work, I have stumbled upon something worth investigating– the future of the sources of historical events and metanarratives. Does the professional archivist have a responsibility, as a matter of advocacy for the profession today, to contribute to the field of collective memory theory in the digital age of self-centric and wider spheres of societal logics categories? I do believe relevant as a matter of issue and advocacy in the Society.
Foote, Kenneth (1990). To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture. The American Archivist: Summer 1990, 53(3), 378-392.
García-Gavilanes, R., Mollgaard, A., Tsvetkova, M., & Yasseri, T. (2017). The Memory Remains: Understanding Collective Memory in the Digital Age. Science Advances, 3(4).
Ocasio, W., Mauskapf, M., & Steele, C. (2016). History, Society, and Institutions: The Role of Collective Memory in the Emergence and Evolution of Societal Logics. Academy of Management Review, 41(4), 676-699.