The Passing of Print: Digitizing Ephemera and the Ephemerality of the Digital

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This paper argues that ephemera is a key instrument of cultural memory, marking the things intended to be forgotten. This important role means that when ephemera survives, whether accidentally or deliberately, it does so despite itself. These survivals, because they evoke all those other objects that have necessarily been forgotten, can be described as uncanny. The paper is divided into three main sections. The first situates ephemera within an uncanny economy of memory and forgetting. The second focuses on ephemera at a particular historical moment, the industrialization of print in the nineteenth century. This section considers the liminal place of newspapers and periodicals in this period, positioned as both provisional media for information as well as objects of record. The third section introduces a new configuration of technologies – scanners, computers, hard disks, monitors, the various connections between them – and considers the conditions under which born-digital ephemera can linger and return. Through this analysis, the paper concludes by considering digital technologies as an apparatus of memory, setting out what is required if we are not to be doubly haunted by the printed ephemera within the digital archive.

Bibliographic note

Special Issue: Ephemera


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-92
Number of pages16
JournalMedia History
Early online date24 Nov 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • print; ephemera; Victorian; uncanny; newspapers; archives