The Making of Military Memory and History

This AHRC Research Fellowship pioneers interdisciplinary understanding of the impact of digital change on the cultural and organizational memory practices and the ‘official’ record of the British Army’s unit operational reports (previously called ‘war’ and ‘commander’s diaries’) through comparative research over two archival sites: Historical Branch Army (HB(A)) the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall and The National Archives (TNA).

Operational Record Keeping (ORK) involves monthly recording of operations by military units in theatre and archived and managed by Army Historical Branch (HB(A)). The Branch was founded in 1906 and uses ORK to provide impartial analysis to support British Army and policy makers’ military planning, decisions and accountability. HB(A)’s collation and management of Army operational records is also fundamental to what kind of history of warfare involving UK forces can be written.

The National Archives is the UK government’s official archive. It contains over 1,000 years of history. Staff at the National Archives give detailed guidance to government departments and the public sector on information management and advise others about the care of historical archives.

This research pioneers a cultural memory studies’ approach which sees memory as cultural and social practices which orient persons to possible versions of the past in such a way as to make them relevant to ongoing personal, institutional and political concerns (Brown and Hoskins 2010).

The approach taken includes the first ever ethnography of (HB(A)) located in the MOD, Whitehall, London. This crucially enables the project to uniquely interrogate the connections and disconnections across and between the often publicly accessible features of the new war ecology (public archives, TNA) and the relatively hidden military organizational knowledge production and management (MOD).

The fellowship examines how the advent of highly mobile digital images and recordings from the frontline presents an unprecedented challenge to the organizational memory of the Army constructed in the context of over a century of maintaining unit operational records, and what this transformation could mean for changes in the forms of knowledge about war, for the military, policy-makers, historians, archivists and publics.

The impetus for this fellowship is the 21st century Western-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan being embedded in the ‘connective turn’ (Hoskins 2011a and b). This is the massively increased scale, volume and complexity of digital information that shape a new knowledge base – an ‘information infrastructure’ (Bowker and Star 2000) through which wars are planned, fought, historicised, and (de)legitimised.

In this period, Government electronic record keeping systems have eclipsed previous paper-based systems, which ‘has been accompanied both by a marked deterioration in record keeping practices and the use of record keeping to enable an audit culture’ (Moss 2012: 860). Specifically, the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars mark the evolution of the military’s organizational memory system from paper to the management of millions of digital records today.

Funding

This Research Fellowship – ‘Technologies of memory and archival regimes: War diaries after the connective turn’ – is held by Professor Andrew Hoskins and is funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (ref. AH/L004232/1).

References:

Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Star, Susan Leigh (2000) Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Brown, Steven D. and Hoskins, Andrew (2010) ‘Terrorism in the New Memory Ecology: Mediating and Remembering the 2005 London Bombings’, Behavioural Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 2(2), 87-107.

Hoskins, Andrew (2011) ‘Media, Memory, Metaphor: Remembering and the connective turn’, Parallax, 17(4): 19-31.

Hoskins, Andrew (2011) ‘7/7 and Connective Memory: Interactional trajectories of remembering in post-scarcity culture’, Memory Studies, 4(3): 269-280.

Moss, Michael (2012) ‘Where have all the files gone? Lost in action points every one?’ Journal of Contemporary History, 47(4): 860-75.

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