Special Topics in Information Studies: Database and Narrative


Databases are omnipresent in contemporary society and, indeed, a defining feature of our contemporary world. As a structured set of objects or data held in computer storage, databases are seemingly expressions of instrumental rationality. According to this understanding, the database represents the world as a list of items that can be navigated in a variety of ways; the way we make meaning out of the world is reduced to an algorithm that occasions algorithm-like behaviour from its “users.” We might therefore assume that databases are distinct from the classic account of cinematic spectatorship or performing the reading of a narrative. Yet the arrangement of data and objects is itself a narrative. Our ability to store vast amounts of data – to classify, index, hyperlink, browse, and retrieve it – leads to new kinds of narratives, alternative story constructs, new expressive possibilities, and new ways to structure our relationship to the world and others. This class considers how databases mediate aesthetic objects, and how our navigation of databases gives rise to new narrative contrivances in film, new media art, literature, and new historical narratives in digital archives. Finally, we’ll seek to expand our understanding of a database to consider narrative in systems of structure, storage, and retrieval beyond the computer.