Friday, 10 December 2010

Memory, Identity and the Archival Paradigm - Final Day

The final sessions of the Memory and Identity conference in Dundee take place today and as the events draw to a close we are beginning to reflect on the highlights of the last few days. What will we remember of the conference or, indeed, what will choose to forget? How will each person reconstruct their memories to form their own record of the conference? Such issues of memory are just some of the concepts that delegates have debated and analysed.

At dinner yesterday evening the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Pete Downes, encouraged attendees to think about the conference in the context of the City and the University. George Mackenzie, the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, asked delegates to reconcile professional theory and practice in their discussions. Earlier, Graham Dominy, Chief Director, National Archives of South Africa, considered the records of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the power of the record to challenge dominant norms, using the 1955 'Freedom Charter' as his case study. On Wednesday Terry Cook, Visiting Professor, University of Manitoba, Canada, opened the conference by asking us to consider challenges to the prevailing archival paradigm and the dichotomy between impartial archives and societal interpretation.

Already today delegates have listened to an intellectual tour de force from David Lowenthal, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Honorary Research Fellow, University College London and author of 'The Past is a Foreign Country'. In the session, chaired by Professor Chris Whatley, Vice-Principal, University of Dundee, he explored the nature of remembering and forgetting, the issues associated with these acts and emphasised that mistrust is an important aspect of interrogating the archive; 'we should mistrust the documents in archives as much as we trust them – we can only mistrust them properly when we understand why they were preserved, for whom and what’s missing'.

The remaining sessions will focus on conceptions of memory and identity beyond the written word and the relationship between the archive and the historian in the making of history.

It has been a wonderful three days and we would like to thank all the speakers and delegates for making the event so successful and for 'birling' around the dance floor during a Strip the Willow last night with such unbridled enthusiasm!

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