Relics, Collections, and Memory Cover Image

Relics, Collections, and Memory
Relics, Collections, and Memory

Author(s): Krzysztof Pomian
Subject(s): History, Cultural history, History of ideas, Oral history, Modern Age
Published by: Instytut Historii im. Tadeusza Manteuffla Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Keywords: collection; image; memory; relic; semiophor

Summary/Abstract: The article begins with an analysis of a modern relic and of relics in general. This leads to a twofold conclusion: we do not know of a society without relics; and the cult of relics is a cult of individuals, groups, or events these relics are believed to be related to. Relics therefore preserve the memories of those of whom they are relics. As such, they are tools of memorising, but not the only ones. Images, written texts, and recordings are also tools of memorising. Images and written texts belong to the class of objects called semiophors which contains all objects included in collections, the meaning of which depends upon the collection they are part of. It is therefore important to distinguish different types of collections: treasuries, private collections, museums (as well as libraries and archives), protected historical monuments, etc. The history of collections seen from this perspective appears to be tantamount to the history of the tools of memorisation, i.e. to the history of external memory preserved and contained in the objects. Recordings are not semiophors. They form a different class of objects because their meanings cannot be disclosed without special apparatuses which transform the physical traces left on them into images or sounds. Hence one may say they form a second belt of external memory, the first being formed by semiophors. The last and most recent belt is composed of all computers with their servers interconnected into the World Wide Web. This is a completely new type of tool of memorising, which duplicates all the previous ones and enables the user to retrieve an incomparably greater quantity of data, to do it much quicker, and to give virtual access to it to almost everybody.

  • Issue Year: 2019
  • Issue No: 119
  • Page Range: 7-26
  • Page Count: 20
  • Language: English