Rewriting history: the information age and the knowable past

Tredinnick, Luke (2011) Rewriting history: the information age and the knowable past. In: Information History in the Modern World. Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke, pp. 175-198. ISBN 9780230237377


Does history any longer have meaning in the information age? Baudrillard has described history as ‘our lost referential, that is to say our myth’. History seems to slip away in the precession of simulacra accompanying mass media and digital computing: ever-present if inauthentic versions of the past overwhelm any sense of historical continuity. Arguably we live in an era of timeless time, or time without chronology in which the very patterns of our daily lives are disrupted. Some theorists suggest we have reached the end of history; others that real historical research is no longer either possible or desirable. In the ephemeral spaces of the information society history apparently lacks purchase. As an emerging discipline, information history must take seriously the proposition that information itself possesses historical agency. It must develop ways of understanding the past that address both ‘information as a central theme’ and its ‘impact upon existing historical theses’. This chapter argues that structural transformations in the production and consumption of information accompanying the transition to the information society require us to rethink both the nature of history and our relationship with the past. They do so because of the tendency of mass media and digital computing to undermine the ontological stability that writing was assumed to possess in the modern age. A subtle complicity exists between writing and history. In unpicking that complicity we might uncover new kinds of previously marginalized historicity.

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