[Humanist] 26.608 new techniques of external remembering?

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Dec 20 10:27:15 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 608.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2012 10:54:19 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: imagining new techniques of external remembering

In his masterful book Marking the Mind: A History of Memory (Cambridge 
2008), Karl Danziger describes the situation that first developed when 
literacy became commonplace and written notes and records began to 
proliferate. He argues that these notes and records were not first used 
to replace human memory but challenged it with a rapidly expanding 
volume of that which needed to be remembered in the mostly oral 
performances e.g. of courtroom proceedings. He continues:

> People who found themselves in these new situations, and who were
> faced by tricky demands on their memorial skills, had a use for a new
> kind of technology. As the sheer volume of potentially relevant
> written material increased, a massive problem developed: how to
> summon up this material when it was needed? Nowadays we are
> accustomed to using a multiplicity of highly sophisticated finding
> aids, from catalogues and indexes to internet searches. In other
> words, we make the content of external memory available and
> accessible by exploiting the resources of external memory itself. But
> in doing so we are benefiting from techniques of literary retrieval
> that took many centuries to discover and develop. In classical
> antiquity these techniques - which now seem so obvious - had not yet
> been thought of at all or were still in their infancy. Finding ways
> of turning external memory on itself turned out to be a painfully
> slow and difficult process.  (p. 61)

Danziger shows throughout with admirable subtlety how technologies and 
conceptions of memory, indeed what is meant by "memory", have 
interrelated and affected each other. He notes that early computing 
devices -- the isolated, room-filling machines that once were what 
"computer" referred to -- strongly imprinted by metaphor how 
psychologists and others concerned with memory think about what it is.

All those techniques that we now have and use mostly thoughtlessly were 
developed in tandem with the slowly developed possibilities of the codex 
book. As we struggle to imagine and construct the what we call the 
"digital textual edition" as well as the digital memory archive, what 
are we doing that is not simply a digital rehash of our 
techno-conceptual inheritance?

Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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