Continuum mechanics and memory banks - Monash University

By Alice Parker,2014-03-19 03:47
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Continuum mechanics and memory banks - Monash Universityand,Banks

    Last two thirds of an article to be published (probably in the November 2005 issue of Archives and Manuscripts)…Students who studied IMS

    5033 in first semester will be familiar with this material.

A cultural heritage continuum model

    In this section I want to take the reader through the construction of a cultural heritage continuum model. Most of the words that follow were written during the construction and testing processes, although by now the model has been tested within teaching frames of reference and some of these words could be different as could be the story I tell.

    A possible starting point for a spacetime distancing template for cultural heritage would be the word museum which conveys the enshrinement of a host of arts and sciences. The choice of a word that conveys the enshrinement of objects suits the information processing rhythm since this requires active creation, capture, organization and pluralization processes if the reverential status of the object is to be carried along or across spacetime. The word museum also contains an apt reference to the continuum of content. Its own continuum of meaning (in the elemental sense of continuity) ripples out with increasing complexity from a temple with many goddesses into its current multiplicity of manifestations of shrines to the arts, sciences 1and the diversity of knowledge.

The next step, having chosen a key word, is to earth the model, tying it in to some sort

    of concrete particular to keep it grounded in observable realities. The records continuum model, for example, is earthed by the recordkeeping containers continuum. What sort of things, in the logic of the chosen word museum, would we hold in front of us and say this thing is a container of cultural heritage? In the area of immediate

    interaction with us there is the exhibit item itself, the very thing we are viewing. That

    item is usually captured within an exhibition. The larger spacetime distancing

    framework for an exhibition, its container, is the starting word museum bearing in

    mind that this is a topological description, part of a template for analysis, not a museum in any single manifestation (so forget your own preconceptions about the word if you have any and think about it as a descriptor for something in any place or any era). Beyond that the modeling is even easier. Turn the spacetime distancing 2processes of the continuum into a plurality by adding s to museum. For archivists

    struggling with or against the terms I am using in this continuum I would point out that for us the exhibit item is not just the display case in an archive. The cultural exhibit is also there in the files and any other items found in an archive once we choose to highlight them (and at the most basic level simply placing them on a researcher’s desk in a reference room is one of many possible highlighting processes

    that archivists undertake on a daily basis).


Figure 1, the Cultural Heritage Continuum c.Frank Upward, 2005

    Time-space distanciation

     Societal totalities

    Dimension 2 Dimension 1 Spacetime CAPTURE CREATE distancing


     Organisational Interaction and community Small story Story-Narrative Legitimation Tale warrant Domination Group telling scale Signification acceptance Metanarrative Exhibit Item


    Museum Dimension 4 Dimension 3


    Cultural heritage


Sociological views (I assume) need to be present within a cultural heritage model and

    Giddens’s time-space distanciation approach outlined in part one is adequate in continuum terms and can be represented in a template by four words or phrases:

    interaction, routinization, spacetime distancing, and societal totalization. [In part one

    of the article I made the point that time-space distanciation was Giddens’s phrase and

    that it has more specificity of meaning than my term spacetime distancing but in this model - and only this model - I bow to Giddens and allow the term spacetime distancing to be pinned down to a locus in the third dimension.] All of these terms

     represent key processes involved in the cultural enshrinement of anything.Accordingly I would make them components of the prime position continuum.

    If the model is going to help manage the continuum of content (in conjunction with the expanding raft of models) it has to have an identifiable knowledge based granularity. Cultural heritage is based on story-telling over spacetime so that is where I would look to find the grains of any adequate heritage analysis. Even the most humble of files tells us a story about action. Simply by being part of the ongoing construction and transmission of files of recorded information in spacetime recordkeepers are remembrancers of the stories the files tell. Perhaps this is part of an

    identifiable grain? One starting point of interaction is the tale itself. From this point

    on, there is the spacetime distancing processes by which stories are disembedded and carried through spacetime within different cultures. It can be argued that tales are captured when they are given signification by groups that hear them and repeat them

    or bow to the authority of the story-teller. Beyond signification there is legitimation

    by communities, organizations or within an individual’s mind, giving the story some


    breadth by its distancing spatially, temporally, or more strictly in the nature of the movement of time in a continuum, both simultaneously. In the plural domain there is a plethora of tales some in harmony and some in competition seeking, in a heritage 3model, cultural authority, or in Giddens’s theories, domination.

    As indicated in the discussion of the information continuum in part one anyone involved in the storage of information can find themselves in cultural battles, but this model should be starting to give us a sense of why such battles occur. In the archival arena the battles might sometimes be about the control of particular stories (through signification, legitimation and domination) such as those contained in the term ‘the

    stolen generation’. The very phrase itself is a controlling one. The perennial cultural battles of the archivist will be of this ilk, relating to fundamental issues of historical accountability in any era or place. The battles will also be ethical and internal in that they set up issues that archivists have to resolve within their own actions.

    The storytelling continuum needs to be able to be folded against something (in the manner of other models) to make the grain identifiable. The most obvious to me is a continuum that deals with the stories’ narrative scale. Who is telling it? How do groups build it up? To what extent is it embraced by ‘whole’ entities? How does it fit within the totality is it one of many stories or does it purport to be a metanarrative? This continuum would start with the small story the story that is competing for

    attention with many other stories. The next two points in a metanarrative continuum are probably group acceptance (capture), and organizational and communal adoption.

    Finally in the plural domain, a tale can end up posing as a metanarrative, competing

    with other metanarratives for cultural domination in the manner of Marxism, Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory, various religions, archival provenance theory, or spacetime continuum theory itself.

    With a template like this fleshed out I imagine (perhaps foolishly) that it will be possible for students and practitioners to easily understand the significance and nature of debates about whether metanarratives actually exist in our age, or whether we live in an era of small stories. In drawing up the models there is usually a hidden but significant academic debate being kept in mind but the hope is that discussions connected to that debate can be held independently of its history by means of the model. The aim is to raise such complex debates in ways that enable archivists, other information professionals and tyros to bring to bear their own understandings without the tyranny of the teacher or modeler intruding (perhaps inevitably I do intrude, but not in the models which consciously have this Lyotardian zero sum language game element to them which can enable such intrusion to be cancelled out by the mapping of other intrusions). This is activity based theorising and the teaching hope is to leave those who engage with the models on their own land, rather than wandering around without a compass in the vast continuum of content that debates like this one raise.

    This model has been tested out with students who have used it successfully as an aid within projects of their own choosing (but it would be too selfish to use them as guinea pigs in testing out the extent to which the model can open up the metanarrative versus small stories debate so this is untested). Suggestions have been made by them including one critique pointing to the need to include references to interpretation and meaning within any cultural heritage model. This is an area of academic discourse (hermeneutics) that the model neglects. One can define culture as a system of shared


    meaning which can distinguish communities from other communities and organisations from other organisations. But how do people get to have shared meanings, surely an important part of cultural making? The model does not deal well with how we understand words and stories, as distinct from the sociological emphasis upon how they take hold amongst groups and are spread by them. Perhaps there is a model still to be drawn, one which can be applied laterally across all the other models. It will be anchored in text. It will, purposively, relate to interpretation. These would be the bases of the vertical axes, but what are its ‘horizontal’ axes (its areas of 4 specialization) if any?

    Like all the models this one conveys a diagonal approach to analysis taking account of joint spatial and temporal spread. It deals with the making of culture in and through

    eras rather than its ossification in a present one and for those of us who accept that story-telling points to an adequate form of granular analysis of this process the model is useable (a goal of any continuum theorising is adequacy as mentioned in part one, usability is a goal of activity based theorising). For archivists the cultural heritage continuum even in the above story-telling version can provide a working model for archivists as cultural enshrinement officers.

The model as a tool a slightly edited set of lecture notes which

    might seem to be a review of the Monash Museum of Computing History

    There is an understandable tendency of some readers to see models as abstractions, assessing them intellectually while questioning their practical value - without actually trying to use them. Such a critique is the reverse of how activity based theorising of the type present in this article can be approached. The models can be used. In part one I referred to the phrase ‘make them dance’

    and anyone who tries to do this will gain a better and personalized understanding of them and their practical and conceptual strengths and weaknesses. I have never published lecture notes until now, but with students I try to give examples of the dancing and get them to take them out for a spin, as do others who have taught using the records or information continuum model including Sue McKemmish, Livia Iacovino and Barbara Reed. My immediate practical use of the cultural model, as with all the models, was in teaching. I included it as one of a number of perspectives students could choose to report on as an adjunct to document management projects they were undertaking. As a guide to the model I presented a number of notes including one which is presented here in slightly edited form. It should be read as such, as a dance not as a review of the Monash Museum of Computer History.

    …..[This note to Monash students is] meant to be an indicator of what is meant by discussing ‘grains’ in your document management projects and to provide an aid to thinking about just how dramatically the combination of internet and web browser technologies changes the way we can ‘act’ in the workplace. …I want to concentrate

    on the cultural heritage continuum. One of the intriguing aspects of the internet-web technology nexus is its cultural effect and how all information systems and information management professionals need to take an innovative and imaginative


approach to this.

… All I mean by it [the word culture], as an ‘information professional, is the way

    systems try to cultivate and train their users and their memories. This ‘enshrinement’ process is part of the logos of culture that is an invariant. Through all the confusing, mangled, wise and strange uses of the term culture, this ‘museum’ approach is always able to be present (although it might be absent). It explains why I am interested [in this note] in museums and their display. My interest in much of their content varies, but the way exhibitions try to enshrine things points to aspects of information systems and their management that all aspiring information professionals can think about. All information objects can be an ‘exhibit’, a cultivation and training device. [For

    archivists this links in to documents as treasures and such devices as the cultivation role the USA national archives has given to the Declaration of Independence, but in a sense every item delivered by an archival system to a user is an ‘exhibit’]

    The exhibition discussed in this note was set up in May 2005 at the Caulfield Campus of Monash University. It is called the Monash Museum of Computing History, and it is a great piece of work given all the spatial, budget and presentation limitations it operates within. It aims to give us a glimpse of computing history (that is all). How effective is the cultural heritage model as a tool for analysis? You can make up your own minds in the context of your projects but it seems to work in this instance. The cultural heritage grain deals with storytelling and with the scale of the story. The model also deals with the information objects as an exhibit, and with the spacetime distancing of the story. Using these elements one can give an overview of the exhibition.

    [students were doing projects and also perspective reports using any one of the continuum models and were advised for their perspective reports to start by running their eye around the perimeter of the model they would use and the major terms they would encounter there as well as think about the information process continuum of creation, capture, organization and pluralization. In what follows I do not get down into the information process continuum which was explained separately].

If we look to the vertical continua of the model the containers are of the glass

    enclosure type with carded explanations. Everything seemed to be static with one exception - a video monitor displaying a film that over the three occasions I looked at the exhibition was working once … The interactive element in terms of the model was,

    then, one where the interaction is between the item being viewed and the viewer. It relies on conventions that we as viewers are familiar with. [In a lecture I asked whether there was anyone who had never encountered this approach and no one indicated that it was new to them]. The analysis of spacetime distancing is both

    simple and speculative. In an immediate sense you had to be there to see the display. The display has an unspecified duration and might never be re-constituted. But this was called a museum, not an exhibition, giving it a sense of greater permanence and breadth. The fact that the curators have squeezed it into a space between lecture theatres and the library indicates their mastery of scant resources, but is this the long term home of the museum? This minimal crossing of spacetime distancing thresholds does not mean, however, that it is not already some partial crossing over into plurality. In some sense the exhibition already has to relate to societal totalities since it is viewable by students at Monash and our students come from many study based and


    ethnic backgrounds. Whether students will stop to view and interact with it is one question my model raises, and whether there would be anything that would raise religious or ethnic tensions is an equally significant question for Monash exhibitions, so societal totalities will influence the structuring of the exhibition.

    The story telling aspect of the exhibition depends a lot on the interaction with the viewer. [In my interactions] I have identified what I see as two metanarratives and

    one major small story. The first metanarrative is related to the theme of ‘computing through the ages’. The story it is telling is that today’s ‘digital age’ has a lineage that traces back through computational devices. This is a metanarrative of generational change from early forms of computational device to whatever generation is current. Within this part of the museum the early material includes an abacus, a mechanical calculator dated to Leonardo De Vinci, early mainframe computers, mini computers, a portable Osborne Computer from the early 1980’s … The exhibit ends with a lounge

    room setting indicating just how widespread the application of digital technology can be. For me the one item that sparked my interest beyond low levels (apart from the sponsor’s furniture) was the Osborne computer, because I had once owned one of

    them ….

    The second metanarrative was one that those who have gone through academic promotion processes will know well. It is a story about the functionality of academics, split across brief accounts of the careers of three members of faculty staff, Cliff Bellamy, Andrew Prentice and Chris Wallace. I dwelt longer on and was more interested in this part of the exhibition. The selection of stories was careful. Cliff Bellamy, whom I knew, and Andrew Prentice and Chris Wallace, whom I did not know, provide three different styles of Faculty member that can be stereotypically represented behind glass much better than I imagined would be possible. Each

    display included some evocative artefacts and illustrations.

    One, Cliff Bellamy, according to the story told on the cards, had come with the Ferranti Sirius supplied by IBM in 1962 to Monash University. He never left. He was

    the first head of the Monash Computer Centre and the first dean of the Faculty of Computing. A photograph linked him to the University’s first mini-computer in the

    1970’s and the theme of the account of his life was that he was a pioneer in developing a computer education faculty. Andrew Prentice and Chris Wallace were presented as two other much respected major types in academia (other than deans). Prentice, was portrayed as the scholar who swims against the tide in relation to particular sets of ideas and lives to see his eccentricities vindicated. Wallace was depicted as a master academic who wrote prolifically, encouraged good students to do very good thesis work and was an innovative teacher. This part of the exhibit tells its story so well that just looking at what was behind glass made me accept its validity. Particularly re-enforcing was the teaching tool Chris Wallace built, a device with a moving arm that his students had to program. Here was an imaginative action based learning tool that combined research and education objectives in a seamless manner beyond the powers of most academics.

    In between the stories of generational computer change and the functionality of University faculty members was the small story, that of Monash’s first computer,

    Ferranti Sirius. Here was an early mainframe computer stripped down to its transistors,

    printed circuits and nickel delay lines and accompanied by the rolls of paper tape and


    associated hardware that were its constant companions [minus all the students that used to service it on a part time employment basis]. Here was a strong story of why

    in the 1960’s we named an object as a computational one and why some forty years later the acceleration of change has been so massive that we can legitimately question whether computational devices of this type (let alone the abacus) are really such a linear part of the history of our digital lounge room. To me something of major significance (document computing is the term I use) seems to be being put in the back-seat and kept there.

    [As a student pointed out to me in the lecture many devices in the exhibit did have a common feature, binary logic and its application to recorded information and this was present, albeit in understated form, in the exhibition. Another student raised the question of what we would call our ‘computers’ these days if we were free to choose a term that more adequately reflected the digital extension beyond narrow views of computation]

    In terms of testing out the cultural heritage continuum model as a tool for exploring cultural making the exhibition gave me the feeling that the model is useful in analysing the topology (invariant nature) of cultural enshrinement. There is the metanarrative of generational change, albeit changes that can be so marked as to make some of us question its linearity. There is the clever method of portraying the sort of functions that academics undertake (administration, management, research, scholarship and teaching). And then there is the potential thwarter of the best laid plans of those who want to make a culture, and perhaps the highlight of any exhibition, the artefact that can almost nakedly tell its small story to us.

[part two of the lecture note… where are the other professional information grains

    in the exhibition?] The USA based systems analyst David Bearman once argued that recordkeeping systems can sit under information systems but here information systems (the exhibition is most definitely an information system even if it is not the sort of system dealt with in information system textbooks), information management, and publishing potential also sit under the exhibition as a cultural device.

    I have no idea what information management tools were used to set up the exhibition, what records are being kept of it, or whether the objects on display can actually process data today (or whether they ever could). In all these respects I have to take the curators on trust. Any thoughts about [managing the exhibit] on the web beyond the physical location or recordkeeping are behind the scenes and no web reference is given on any of the labels. All these things would have to be separately investigated to enter into an analysis. They are outside the enshrinement ‘grain’ within this exhibit’s traditional approach.

    But what if the exhibition is photographed and placed on a web site in multi-media form? Can these other ‘grains’ come into play? Of course they can, and I am not going to rehash in detail how here. You are working on this sort of thing in your projects. But in what follows I will briefly ask you to think about this in relation to the museum (and hopefully help you a bit in relation to your projects in the process). If as a starting point you just run your eye around the outer listing of continua in the diagrams a sense of the extent of the change will be apparent. [The diagrams from

    part one and two of this article were reproduced in the lecture note but have been left out in this version] If you look at creation, capture, organisation and pluralisation


    processes after doing this you can think about whether in web environments they are needed [in respect of any aspects of the various models], how to carry them out if needed, and what sequence if any they can occur in.

I will just present a few dot points for each model, starting with the information


    ; If you transfer the museum display onto a website your technology of

    information presentation has changed dramatically. Is the current format like

    cave paintings? [Think about the obvious parallel cultural representations

    spread around walls]. On a website it can be multi-media. It is only feebly and

    ineffectively so at present (but is its passiveness right for what it is currently


    ; The storage/memory capacities relate to what is remembered in the exhibit and

    what goes into the memory of the viewer, and clearly this changes a lot on a

    website in terms of the amount of content that can be presented and linked, the

    way we interact with the exhibit and the totalities that can do the interacting

    (although at Monash people from many different backgrounds and cultures are

    already present).

    ; The current action/structure relationship seems simple enough: A museum

    curator with a space to work with and traditional stories in mind to tell. It may

    seem strange to use the word traditional for digital technology, but these are

    common stories if you work in an Information Technology faculty of a

    University. Page architecture design and use of metadata can attend to

    action/structure relationships but what is particularly significant about the use

    of an Internet approach is that the exhibition instead of being a single site

    exhibit could become part of a museum contributed to by all the partners

    changing the whole ‘action/structure’ components of museum building. Would

    the stories being told within the exhibits change?

The grain of the records continuum deals with identity, transactionality, (who did

    what) and the storage of evidence about this in recordkeeping containers. ; From a recordkeeping and accountability perspective the exhibition gives no

    real indication of who prepared it other than a vague agency title, The

    Museum of Computing History … The museum lists its partners and sponsors

    on a board but how, if at all, did they contribute to the exhibition? ; There will be records behind the scene that convey some of this information

    and such information might be destroyed or retained in accordance with

    University records scheduling processes. Knowing how difficult it is for

    University records managers to control faculty disposal processes I can only

    express this tentatively. Does metadata for postings to a website make the

    accountability/disposal issues more controllable?

    ; What of records of transactions related to the exhibition? Again most of these

    might be maintained behind the scene, but this is not interactive so there will

    not be many of these types of records? Will, for example, adjustments to the

    displays be documented (the time bound, redundant, non-manipulable view of

    records you met early in the course). Is it much easier to retain redundant web

    based information?

    ; Do you need evidence of related transactions? There is a film displayed on a

    video monitor accompanying Ferranti Sirius… Do we need records of its

    malfunctioning? Remember in your projects to think of business need. In this


    case you would not be bothered, but remember that the consistent and reliable

    operation of your information technologies can be necessary evidence at times.

    In relation to the continuing operation of web sites, what information is

    already collected and collectable?

    ; But would you want to put the exhibition on to a web site if you were the

    museum curator? Perhaps the real purpose of the museum is the one that

    everybody running a museum has to deal with, the need to make the

    ‘sponsors’ happy, including those who pay for their employment. If so, on the

    web the functional classification of academic life might be expanded upon

    within categories that look more fully at its components and the display could

    become part of staff induction processes and tutor training? Does this involve

    unwarranted intrusions on your freedom as a museum curator to tell the stories

    your way, or is it simply part of the constraints you operate under?

    In relation to the information systems (data) continuum, some of you might be

    wondering what the difference between data storage and information storage is. The

    exhibition makes no real distinction (and in digital technology the lack of a distinction

    makes sense) but in the notes below I point to a distinction between the two. Does it

    make sense to you?

    ; In relation to data storage the story of Ferranti Sirius, Monash’s first computer

    tells us much. It had a memory even smaller and worse than mine. It could

    remember 1000 numbers or instructions but only while it was switched on. At

    least when I get up in the morning I still remember how to put my left foot in

    front of my right when walking (well so far I do). Switch Sirius of and its

    memory was lost, except in punch tape form.

    ; One student sent me an email saying she was so affected by this (the vast

    increases in storage) that she went off from the exhibition and spent precious

    dollars on a USB storage device pointing to how the computer, which in its

    early manifestations had no information storage capacity has become a major

    tool in this respect (many of us could keep a lifetimes’ information on a USB).

    That is information continuum stuff (the ‘ICM’). Random access memory is

    data storage, (the ‘DCM’), and the computer’s capacity to remember and

    execute instructions has increased just as massively and effectively. This data

    processing component of memory is what the information systems [data]

    continuum model is about. [It is the remembering and executing component of

    an information system as a system, not the content it stores, that explains why

    information systems are power tools?]

    ; The drawing down of global categorization processes for the genealogy and

    pre-history of digital technology is clearly part of what is going on in the

    exhibition But will the story be remembered and retold in this computational

    form much longer or is the story of digital technology one about binary logic

    colonising all forms of recorded information as a student suggested? Is the

    existing exhibit part of the normalization processes of the past, an indicator of

    the operation of a suppressive archive of information technologists built out of

    their data processing rather than information processing background? Is that

    archive becoming dysfunctional as some information systems analysts would

    argue. (Use ‘Google’ to check out Phil Agre as an example)

    ; Is the previous point really related to data normalization as an information

    systems analyst would understand the term? What do you think of my use of

    the term archive to reflect the oppressive way we can allow our stories to


    legitimate views, to control what we say? Does each professional discourse

    constitute an archive in the records continuum sense?

    ; In an exhibition of ‘computing history’ dealing with the processing of data is it

    good enough to interact with exhibits and display cards in a passive way or do

    you really have to be much more interactive in your displays. Can putting the

    exhibition on the web increase the possibilities for interactivity?

The publishing continuum is probably the one most dramatically affected by

    presenting the museum in a web-browser/internet environment. Anyone who thinks my choice of the word publishing for this model is strange given the narrow view many of us have of the term publication will hopefully understand better why the model uses the words it does. Web-based publishing effectively subverts most of our older paper based notions of what is involved in publishing something (but not, I hope, the topological view presented in the publishing continuum model):

    ; If the exhibition goes on the web it should be easy enough for all of you (from

    within your many backgrounds) to speculate on how this affects issuance,

    reach, the transfer of experiences depicted in the exhibition and gained from

    viewing it, and the framing and storage aspects of the website itself as a

    container (think of metadata for example). You can also then bounce back to

    the other models and think how this change in the publishing processes and in

    the published information object offers new ways of approaching the many

    continua outlined above.


    Continuum mechanics for memory bank technicians clearly has many aspects to it and this two part article starts to explore the whole iceberg. In this conclusion I will just draw attention to a few aspects beneath the surfaces of what I have written:

    ; Situated analysis: Using the models we can conduct a range of separate or

    interconnected analyses from overviews of different sites, including the four

    regions of spacetime distancing and the granularity of five different

    information based pursuits. One can now see a clear exposition of the

    elements of the spacetime distancing form of situated analysis in Archives,

    Recordkeeping in Society, Chapters four to seven. This two part article uses

    the topology established in detail in the book to re-focus the paradigm shift on

    to spacetime distancing processes across five facets of recorded information,

    not just the recordkeeping facet, while not losing contact with the archival

    homeland represented by intertwined recordkeeping and archiving processes.

    ; A topology for a twenty-first century form of diplomatics: Obviously there is

    an ambitious agenda in these models. The topological approach in the records

    continuum model provided an ‘any place-any era’ approach to the situated

    analysis of document, record, archive and archives systems and the thinking

    and practices that surround them. As such it offered a new form of diplomatics,

    one which is document concentric rather than document-centric. In this form

    the model established a non-linear unbounded approach which connects

    recordkeeping and archiving processes to recordkeeping objects, replacing the

    linear and bounded separations between diplomatics and archival science that

    modern archivists have created. This two part article extends this new view of

    diplomatics in multi-polar fashion


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