IRC17, Bengaluru, March 03-05, 2017


18. #TheDigitalCommonplace

Last updated on Oct 31, 2016.


Description of the Session

The discussion in this session will focus on ways in which the historical record and its repositories are being constantly redefined by the digital medium. Be it Twitter accounts revisiting vintage photographs for a newer audience, or a Facebook page that parodies history lessons by juxtaposing current events on older, non-contextual photographs, digital space has emerged as a fecund means to challenge, reinterpret, or even re-enforce our historical perceptions.

While highlighting the conflicted place of history within online discourse, such accounts also hint at the potential of user-generated digital histories and the challenges they pose our ‘pasts’. The proposed panel considers the ways (and limits) in which narratives in such a digital space offer the possibility of formulating and disseminating a worlding that is at once historicist and yet subversive of its statist strictures.

Session Plan

Each discussant shall present for about 20 mins after which the session will be open for discussion.

Documentation Plan


Paper Abstracts

01. Ammel Sharon - Shared History: Online Interventions in Kannada

Public discourse in Karnataka is riven by a sense of fragility of its past. While the past has become an object of desire for groups of differing persuasions, what unites them is the online sharing of images, information and opinion and a method of mobilization. Before opinions become popular – go viral – they need to be shared or forwarded. Is there a relationship between ‘sharing’ and the creation of the past as an object of desire?

20th century literary and cinematic production in Kannada has often recreated and interpreted historical epochs. We may simply turn to the number of historical characters Rajkumar played, or the different interpretations of the 12th century Veerashaiva Vacanakara movement. More recently, a media organization along with a prominent theatre group brought out short visual representations of popular poems. The express purpose of this project, Kaavya Kannadi was, as the website says in heavily Sanskritized Kannada, to reach out to youngsters between 17 and 40 years. The videos do away with the need to read the poems, and they also make it easy to share them.

How might we understand the impulse to share? Does sharing a sense of fragility mark a useful approach to understanding digital objects? In his canonical article on preserving the past, Roy Rozenzweig puts paid to the idea that online archiving might preserve documents forever.  What, may we ask, is the time in which gestures like sharing, liking and forwarding operate? How might these digital objects intervene in a discourse on the past (recovering a love for Kannada poetry?) to form a community?

Just as Kaavya Kannadi forms an always accessible online archive, I study the long standing family website on history and historical material, Kamat’s Potpourri, as a singular example of a public archive to ask whether access and repositories are adequate descriptions of the archive in the age of the internet. If the etymological meaning of the term ‘comment’ as fabrication and invention provides a critical gloss on historical knowledge, then I extend my observations on Kaavya Kannadi and Kamat’s Potpourri to speculate about the possibilities of crowd sourced technologies in the very contentious field of history.

02. Sujeet George - The Digital and the Quotidian

The proliferation of online history blogs and websites in the past decade have purported to open up the field of historical enquiry by shifting the lens from so-called grand narratives to the more mundane, nondescript events that also comprise the historical ledger. This democratization of both the discipline of History as well as its constitutive elements has fundamentally altered notions of the archive, of access, and the kind of tales that can be narrated. The everyday, the commonplace, the quotidian are highlighted in this move towards a more inclusive past.

The Indian Memory Project is one instance of an online, public-curated historical record that has sought to present a more expansive, diverse hue of the subcontinental past. Visitors to the website are encouraged to share photographs from prior to 1991 as it seeks to narrate a "history remembered, realised and experienced by its own people." Through a critical reading of a few of the posts this paper attempts to consider the possibilities and limits of the trope of the everyday as a means of negotiating the past as well as a specific mode of history-writing. How does such an instance of a digital narration converse/confront our received understandings of historicity with the primacy that is accorded to the written word? To what extent do such user-generated narratives challenge more entrenched popular accounts, and what are the implications of its digital presence for the historical discipline as well as for its enunication in the domain of the public?

Details of the Team

Ammel Sharon is a PhD student interested in medieval south India.

Sujeet George has an M.Phil from the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. His research interests are in histories of science and new media and digital humanities. He has previously worked with the Mumbai City Museum and The Southasia Trust.