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'The Past is a Foreign Country. This Is Your Passport.': Media Fragments, Digital Archives and Virtual Museums

by Ethan Tussey

by Mabel Rosenheck for IN MEDIA RES

While traditional museums are becoming virtual and conventional archives are being digitized, so too are blogs and websites emerging as new sites of curation and new sites for public history and art. Blurring institutional and spatial boundaries, the content of sites like Vintage Everyday, Voices of East Anglia, and How to Be a Retronaut is just as often taken from digital archives or publicly shared museum collections as taken from the websites and flickr albums of thrift store connoisseurs, auction enthusiasts and vintage devotees. Reflecting these diverse sources, the images on display at these blogs range from 1940s Stanley Kubrick photographs in the Victoria and Albert Museum to Cold War rocket ads, 1950s kitchens and amateur street photography.

Though there’s certainly much to say about this range of content and how it circulates in a constellation of blogs and websites concerned with vintage culture and retro style, what I want to focus on here is the question of the archive, the museum and the blog, their similarities and their differences. Though museums often have archives and archives often have display space, generally an archive is seen as a repository of information for historical reference while a museum is focused on the public display of material objects. However, each in their own way both the internet and visual media change this. We speak of archiving film and television, but have only really just begun to musealize them. When we digitize archives and make information and documents public online, the archive becomes a forum not just of preservation but of display and access. Further complicating this then are blogs like those mentioned above. Do they function as archives or museums? How do they complicate that dichotomy by using material from archives and museums but also from estate auctions, junk shops and their internet equivalents flickr and youtube? How can they be used to musealize media whose ephemeral projection has made its commemoration and public display difficult?

In addition to the public culture formed by museal institutions, one of the key attributes which is at stake in musealized media is the relation between objects and between objects and viewers. Ultimately, I would suggest that viewing history blogs as museums not only facilitates new curatorial constructions but makes possible new, unexpected and productive meanings about the artifacts of the past.

The Past is a Foreign Country; This is your passport

from How to Be a Retronaut

from How to be a Retronaut (2012)
Creator: How to be a Retronaut
Posted by Ethan Tussey