Wikipedia’s apocalyptic fear of loss tells history in a certain way. We should take charge of the crowdsourced archive to tell our version.
According to Wikipedia “[c]ollective memory is the shared pool of knowledge and information in the memories of two or more members of a social group.” This ostensibly collective page has been edited countless times since its inception in 2005 (at which time the entry was a meagre 50 words). There have been 21 noteable edits since September 2015 alone. Collective memory, or at least the definition of it, is also conflicted memory, memory poised for revision by those who ostensibly share it.
Although memory is typically thought of in ethereal terms, as something that both forms how we know and is just outside the grasp of proper knowing, the project of producing solid, lasting collective memories is longstanding. Among other things, the attempt to consolidate and negotiate collective memory is the basis of most nation-building projects. These forms of collective memory (or perhaps collective misremembering and systematic forgetting) rely on producing a notion of shared memory as such, whose content comes to stand in for a shared ‘truth.’ In fact, the existence of something as ambitious (and ambiguous) as a nation is predicated on this shared memory-truth. The construction, circulation, perpetuation, and institutionalization of these “shared pools of knowledge” occur through a myriad of technologies, such as the museum, the archive, the database.
Wikipedia, the resource we started with, is itself deeply involved in the (re)production of certain types of knowledge. Until mid-October, the data-hungry Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that manages Wikipedia and several other wiki-based projects, promoted its now annual monuments campaign. “Wiki Loves Monuments,” proclaims a banner at the top of every page, much like during their fundraising campaigns. Essentially, the project is just a photo competition to collect images of monuments for free access on Wikimedia Commons.
The monument, and the closely related memorial, are some of the most obvious projects of reifying and directing (often institutional) collective memory. The memorial, of course, is etymological kin to memory – it is memory made object. It is memory that endures, that we can engage with. User LilyOfTheWest, the international organizer of Wiki Loves Monuments, notes “[p]hotographing these monuments now offers a way to preserve them so that a record of these sites may exist in our collective memory [emphasis mine] – for other generations to learn from and enjoy for many years to come.”