• Making ‘Atomic’ History: Consuming Historical Narratives in the ‘Unofficial’ Digital Archive

Candela, Emily, 2019, Book Section, Making ‘Atomic’ History: Consuming Historical Narratives in the ‘Unofficial’ Digital Archive In: Hendon, Zoe and Massey, Anne, (eds.) Design, History and Time: New Temporalities in a Digital Age. Bloomsbury, London UK, pp. 91-102. ISBN 9781350060654

Abstract or Description:

This chapter explores how narratives about postwar British design are mediated by ‘retro’ designed objects on eBay today. eBay has altered the way retro objects are consumed, contracting geographies and time, changing how sellers describe and categorise objects, and, I argue, redesigning the way both retro consumers and academic historians understand histories of design. As a vast database of artefacts from the past accessible by almost anyone with an Internet connection, eBay is an example of a new breed of dynamic, publicly accessible archive generated online. Through its display design and indexing functions, eBay acts not only as an e-commerce platform, but also as a digital archive that exerts a powerful narrativising influence on popular and scholarly understandings of history.

I focus on the contemporary life on eBay of a class of postwar British furnishings distinguished by their ball-and-rod form, which often go by the appellation ‘atomic’. The passage of time, and changes in the technologies mediating these furnishings, correspond with great shifts in their status and significance for consumers between the 1950s and today. On eBay, these designed objects help to construct a history of a future-facing, optimistic vision of mid-century science. In the process, they raise key questions about who—and what—produces histories when we think beyond the text, and focus on narratives embedded in the object, image, or browser window.

Drawing upon scholarship on retro culture, collective memory, public history, digital media studies, and empirical research into the social lives of ball-and-rod furnishings in postwar and contemporary contexts, this analysis offers new insights for historians. These include findings on the role of memory in the long history of ball-and-rod furnishings; how new technologies of archivisation shape design historical timelines; and how understandings of the past within academic design history are influenced by new cultures of collecting.

Subjects: Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V370 History of Design
School or Centre: School of Communication
Funders: AHRC
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2019 16:15
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2020 12:16
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3878
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