Technologies of memory and archival regimes: War diaries before and after the connective turn

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: Adam Smith Research Foundation

Abstract

This fellowship will pioneer interdisciplinary understanding of the impact of digital change on the cultural memory practices and the 'official' record of the British Army's unit operational reports ('war diaries') through comparative research over two archival sites: the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall and The National Archives (TNA).

Military units document and record their activities in theatre (active combat) by keeping war diaries. War diaries are official records that (i) capture information to be used at a later time by the military to improve training and tactics, and (ii) establish a comprehensive record of a unit's activities to enable future historical research. The CMU's key work includes: improving operational record keeping (i.e. collecting, organising, and archiving active war diaries); developing and maintaining briefing documents to support current operations; working with treasury solicitors and others in compensation claims, and providing documents for public inquiries. TNA 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 work pioneers a 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.

This approach will be applied to the first ever ethnography of the British Army's Corporate Memory Unit (CMU) in the MOD, Whitehall, London after securing unprecedented access. 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).

This fellowship will examine 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 war diaries, and what this transformation could mean for changes in the forms of knowledge about war, for the military, archivists, historians 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 2010, 2011). This is the massively increased scale, volume and complexity of digital/digitized 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 MOD organizational memory system from paper to digital. Although the organization was using computers in 2001, it was still operating a paper system, i.e. printing out work and placing in paper files. This compares with the 300 million digital files from operations in Iraq it has to manage today.

Planned Impact

A Stakeholder Advisory Board (SAB) has been commissioned that comprehensively covers the impact range of this fellowship to maximize the opportunities for impact over the lifetime of the fellowship and beyond.

The fellowship will illuminate the impact of digital change and the related role and importance of personal and organizational memory in the uses, organizational and archival management of the knowledge of warfare via Army's unit operational reports ('war diaries') in and through military and public archives.

This work will benefit the MOD's Corporate Memory Unit through identifying and analysing the CMU's existing memory practices and through assessing the impacts of technological, cultural and organizational shifts on these practices, including the impact of the introduction of digital content and an electronic document and records management system (EDRM). This will be achieved internally through regular internal MOD reports and presentations and will furthermore inform a better understanding and raise the profile of the work of the Corporate Memory Unit within the wider MOD.

The public and policy profile of the work of the CMU will be raised externally via the fellowship workshops, public lectures, and the public forum, as well as via the Stakeholder Advisory Board. This will also open its role to greater public and academic scrutiny.

Fellowship findings will inform wider government understanding and public awareness of the relationship between the introduction of digital technologies and the potential for 'a marked deterioration in record keeping practices and the use of record keeping to enable an audit culture' (Moss 2012: 860), in terms of the functionality of war diaries for public inquiries and for the shifting historical record of warfare. This will be achieved through targeted invitations to events (e.g. Cabinet Office Knowledge and Information Management Unit, Chief Information Officer MOD) and through the series of workshops, lectures, and online publications (working paper and briefings via the interactional web forum), and over the longer term through the final monograph.

The National Archives (TNA) will benefit through the bringing of interdisciplinary expertise (cultural/organizational memory studies, history, linguistics etc.) to develop TNA understanding of the uses of the war diaries collection (online and on-site). The fellowship work will open up original ways of imagining and revealing the organisation and movement of knowledge and mechanisms for greater transparency and improved practices in records management and public history. This explicitly includes revealing the longer-term challenges for TNA of managing war diaries (but also related de-classified military data) that will all eventually arrive in digital (and multimodal) form, and so will enhance TNA's commitment to ensuring 'digital continuity' ('the ability to use your information in the way you need, for as long as you need', TNA 2012).

This will be achieved through dedicated weekly internal TNA reports and the reflexive data exchange between the two researchers undertaking the archival ethnographies (MOD and TNA), and this fellowship thus delivers to The National Archives' organisational research priorities in supporting Government data and policy through illuminating the 'trajectories' of archival data and ultimately knowledge. Furthermore, through its numerous public activities and its interactive web forum, social media elements and a dedicated Twitter feed, the fellowship will promote the presence and usefulness of the war diaries in TNA to a broad audience.

This fellowship will impact upon understandings of changing forms and practices in archival military history directly into Army education through a dedicated seminar (and the development of future seminars) to British Army officer cadets and staff at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, in addition to their representation on the SAB.

Publications

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Hoskins A (2017) Risk media and the end of anonymity in Journal of Information Security and Applications

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Hoskins A (2014) Journalism and Memory

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Hoskins A (2015) Arrested war: the third phase of mediatization in Information, Communication & Society

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Hoskins, A (2015) Media, War and Memory After the Connective Turn (Chinese translation) in Tansuo yu Zhengming (Exploration and Free Views)

 
Description There is no doubt that a history of warfare dependent upon the official record of the British Army, is at a critical juncture. The millions of digital records from Iraq and Afghanistan and other 21st century wars, in terms of the nature and extent of the resources required to make them public, have an uncertain future. This uncertainty extends to how the records can be read: the emergent archive will offer a different balance of content, from the loss of the interpretive complexity found in the material 'contextual marsh' to the gain of chronological granularity.

There is a perfect storm of technological, economic and political change blowing over the history of warfare of this century. At all points on the official historical trajectory of military operational records, from production and collection of documents in the field, to their collation and archiving by Historical Branch (Army) to their assessment for declassification or destruction by Defence Business Services, through to their being made public via The National Archives, the shift from paper to digital utterly transforms the very nature of all of these organizations' business and how the history of war will or won't be written.

And some of these pressures result from the culture of openness that has attached itself to current technological changes. Pressurising the throughput of military records at a time of organizational change and without adequate resources and a full understanding of the array of challenges that digital records pose for collecting, collating, securing, reading and reviewing, is not a recipe for improving public access, however widely that aim is shared. Faster history is not necessarily better history.

The records of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are like no other records in history in terms of their volume, complexity, and multimodality.

Potentially future histories of warfare could draw on an archive like no other archive, and a history of warfare could be written like no other history of warfare before.

But, IF and WHEN this happens will ultimately be subject to the risk averseness of the government of the day, and it is highly unlikely that any technological solution to the sensitivity review of digital records of warfare will satisfy such a political measure any time soon. And only the leakiness of what this project identified as a 'new war ecology' is likely to ever save this history.
Exploitation Route Following-on funding bid in preparation to test the feasibility of developing a British Army Historical Branch (HB(A)) programme of working with academics to interpret their official archives and write military histories.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://archivesofwar.com
 
Description Development of greater public and institutional awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by the Government in general and the British Army and The National Archives in particular in the management and archiving of British Army official operational records from the frontline through to eventual release into the public domain and particularly those pertaining to policy, economic and technological change, and their likely consequences on the publicly available historical record of warfare.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Blog 1 on project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog by Andrew Hoskins: 'The Making of Military Memory and History'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/page/3/
 
Description Blog 2 on project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog by Andrew Hoskins entitled: 'Are we losing the history of warfare?'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/are-we-losing-the-history-of-warfare-by-andrew-hoskins/
 
Description Blog 3 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog by Debra Ramsay: War Diaries and The National Archives
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/war-diaries-and-the-national-archives-in-transition-debra-ramsay/
 
Description Blog 4 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Blog by Stevie Docherty on 'Transcribing Digitized First World War Diaries' setting out some pf the methodology of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/transcribing-digitized-first-world-war-diaries/
 
Description Project Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the final project event reporting project findings and bringing together the project partners (Army Historical Branch and The National Archives) into debate and discussion with key academics and artists in the field, hosted by The National Archives, with an audience of over 80.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/archives-of-war-media-memory-and-history-conference/
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact http://www.voterecology.com

Main outlet for promotion of developing research and publications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.voterecology.com
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Project website with blogs, audio outputs from workshop, events, publication, twitter
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
URL http://archivesofwar.com
 
Description Project Workshop 2 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This project workshop: 'Organisational Remembering as an Alternative Framework' was a collaboration with an ESRC seminar series and hosted by the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, comprising 30 invited participants of debate and discussion on the fields of Memory Studies and Organisation Studies in discussion and debate for the first time in an organised setting on the nature and significance of 'organisational memory'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/ESRC-Seminar-Series-QMUL-flyer.pdf
 
Description Project workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project workshop was a provocation to address the challenges of dealing with the transformations in scale and complexity of records with the transition to the digital and how this might shape future history. It included 30 participants from Army Historical Branch (MOD), The National Archives, and academics drawn from a range of disciplines.

Key issues presented and debated included:
The technological, security and general resource issues of handling digital records.
The impact of the loss of the subliminal context of paper on how records are searched, found, lost.
The cultural devaluation of paper (and its worth for retention) in light of the digital move.
Changing Military/Government/Public/TNA expectations on what should be accessible to them and how and when.
The impact of the shift from the 30 to the 20 year rule in shaping the above.

Some of the workshop presentations and panels were podcast on the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/audio/
 
Description Publication in 'The Conversation' (online) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Article in 'The Conversation' by Andrew Hoskins entitled 'Digital records take something precious from military history'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://theconversation.com/digital-records-take-something-precious-from-military-history-36328
 
Description Twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Project Twitter account
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description User survey in conjunction with The National Archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Survey undertaken in collaboration with TNA on TNA user motivations and experiences with over 100 respondents. The results are still being processed at the time of this submission.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://archivesofwar.gla.ac.uk/survey-on-the-national-archives/