GLAM to the power of “x”: The Future of Memory

GLAM to the power of “x”: The Future of Memory

By Gionni Di Gravio

[This presentation originally debuted as an address at the annual Australian Decorative & Fine Arts Societies ADFAS Lecture held on Remembrance Day, Monday 11 November 2019, Hunter Theatre, Hunter School of the Performing Arts Lambton Rd, Broadmeadow NSW.

A shorter version was also presented to the National Digital Forum 2019, held in Wellington, New Zealand on 20 November 2019.]


What do we remember? How do we retain, pass on or even re-discover memories? This lecture takes a look at human expression in all its forms and formats across our region and across thousands of years to the present. It will consider the problems encountered by archivists and GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) professionals in how to handle this material and knowledge, preserve it, and facilitate access into the future.

Speech Notes

Acknowledgment of Aboriginal Peoples

Let me begin by acknowledging the Aboriginal ancestors of this land, known since 1892 as the Awabakal people, before then, The Newcastle or Lake Macquarie Tribes, and before then, the peoples of Mulubinba or the Mulubinbakal. We welcome their elders past, present, and yet to be, to these proceedings tonight.


Thanks very much for the invitation to speak to you, on Remembrance Day, on the topic of memory.

As archivist at the University of Newcastle, this is my business, and I see every day the joys and woes caused when memory, collective and personal are either remembered or lost, or ignored.

No matter how much you hear the words, we “don’t need the past, let’s just concentrate on the future”, the more we need to understand that we are all made up of memories that have shaped who we are, and we world we live in, so ignoring it will not help us in the future, or hamper us.

I will give you a personal and universal view on the topic of memory spanning centuries.

[Slide 1] – What is GLAM?

For those who don’t know, “GLAM” stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, the repositories of our memories in tangible form.

We established a GLAMx in 2016 to invite students into our world as work integrated learning students (or WIL) to connect them with all forms of human expression across 50,000 years.

Thus, GLAM to the power of “x” encompasses all possibilities and knowledge capable of a human being with no limits; which takes us into deep time 4.7 billion years to the birth of the Earth, and galactically in the knowledge of our universe, and beyond.

GLAM to the power of “x”


[Slide 2] – Black Obsidian Mirrors

This is a black Aztec obsidian mirror. Used by the Aztec priests to see into the future, and access divine knowledge.

Purported to have been plundered during the conquest of the Americas, and brought to England to find its way into the possession of Queen Elizabeth I’s astrologer, mathematician and polymath, Dr John Dee.

Dr Dee used it, along with other crystal apparatus or scrying stones, to communicate with the angels to obtain divine intelligence, which were termed “Actions with Spirits”.

So, why did he need to speak with the angels?

Dr John Dee’s black obsidian mirror (Courtesy of The British Library)


[Slide 3] – The New Star

In November 1572, a new star appeared in the constellation of Cassiopeia.

Known as Tycho’s supernova (SN1572), it was also observed and recorded by a number of scientists at the time, including Dr John Dee.

What made it significant, was that its appearance significant was that it formed a cross in the heavens, causing astrologers to believe it was God now impressing his heavenly mark on the heavens – the end of the world was nigh.

Dee began his is angelic communications in the late 1570s possibly as a response to uncover God’s design, and what lay ahead.

The supernova in Cassiopia (Tycho’s Supernova) and screenshot from Masters of Darkness Queen Elizabeth’s Magician (2002) Channel 4 UK


[Slide 4] Dr John Dee’s Monas

As part of his method, Dr Dee devised a “key” he called the Monas Hieroglyphica, which was a composite symbol made out of all the astronomical symbols for the “planets” and elements, in order to unlock the Universal Book of Nature.

Monas Hierogyphica (Courtesy Wellcome Institute)


[Slide 5] Giordano Bruno – Unlocking Divine Knowledge

In Italy, another scientific philosopher, Giordano Bruno, was devising his own “key” using similar magical signs and sigils to unlock eternal divine knowledge, he taught as the Art of Memory.

He sought such a universal key through his works on memory such as De Umbris Idearum (The Shadows of Ideas).

These renaissance thinkers were obsessed in unlocking unlimited knowledge.

Giordano Bruno with sigil Giordano Bruno, by Ettore Ferrari (public domain)


[Slides 6-7] City of the Sun – All Human Knowledge on Public View

Thomasso Campanella proposed a Utopian “City of the Sun” (1623) where all human knowledge was set in public view via seven walls. One third of the book proposed this Utopic vision, two thirds on how to defend it.

Civitas Solis (The City of the Sun) by Tomasso Campanella


Notes on the City of the Sun, circa 1990s by Gionni Di Gravio


[Slide 8] Steganographic – Birth of the Internet 1499

All these ideas were in some way inspired by the Abbott Johannes Trithemius.

Trithemius, whose work Steganographia, a book of cryptography masquerading as a work of demonic magic, written in 1499, and published in 1606, was circulating in manuscript, was sourced and copied by John Dee.

I see this work as the birth of the internet. Its access to divine intelligence, using spiritual beings to convey communications from one part of the earth to another, and the art of using spirits to communicate messages across long distances; satellites are angels.

They had the dreams, what they were missing were the physical technologies that would later emerge hundreds of years later. So they described their wonders using what they had at their disposal, celestial beings. Using such an analogy, the “demons” could now be our modern day trolls.

Steganographia (written c. 1499; published Frankfurt, 1606)


[Slide 9] Dame Frances Yates and the ancient Art of Memory

Dame Frances Yates was the scholar of the Warburg Institute in London, who retraced the ancient Art of Memory in her 1966 landmark work.

She illustrated how people remembered things prior to the invention of writing and printing.

Memory palaces created, with locations and fantastical imagery to remember anything. There is one illustrated where the god Thoth shows up to tell the king he has invented the art of writing:

“I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in a great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame of the various arts which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to letters, ‘This invention, O king,’ said Theuth, ‘will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.’ But Thamus replied, ‘Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgctfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practise their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are not part of themselves will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise”


The Art of Memory by Frances Yates

[Slide 10] Aboriginal Art of Memory

This recent book from Lynne Kelly “The Memory Code” illustrates the same process, but from an Aboriginal perspective.

The Memory Code by Lynne Kelly


[Slide 11] – The Black Obsidian Mirror of Today

Here is our black obsidian mirror of the modern day. A computer screen is our “scrying” stone, and Google are our “angels”, communicating anything we wish across distances, and finding the answers to any question, accessing a universal knowledge, the dreams of the renaissance magicians have now come true.

Apple Computer Screen, black obsidian mirror of the modern day.



Cloud Atlas (2012) “Ordinarily, I begin by asking prisoners to recall their earliest memories…”


“to provide a context for the corporatic historians of the future.” Cloud Atlas (2012)

[Slides 12-14] Cloud Atlas (2012)

In the motion picture Cloud Atlas (2012), the character of the “Archivist” records an interview with the “Fabricant” to provide context to the “corporate historians of the future”.

The fabricant (or slave) has “no such memories” because the records are not kept with the gaoled, but with the gaolers.

I know this is the case with my home city of Newcastle Australia, originally established in 1801 as a European “gaol within a gaol”. Our historical records are scattered all around Australia and Europe, part of our work has been in digitally re-patriating records so our people know their historical background.

“Fabricants have no such memories, Archivist.” Cloud Atlas (2012)


[Slide 15] Oppressed Ancestors

Here are some of our “oppressed” ancestors at a picnic courtesy of Photographer Ralph Snowball.

Phillip’s picnic group, Toronto, NSW, 18 September 1901 (Photographer Ralph Snowball)


[Slides 16,17,18,19,20] – Establishment of GLAMx 2016

In 2016 with the help of Professor Marguerite Johnson, we set up the GLAMx lab in a collaborative project between University of Newcastle’s IT Section, Faculty of Education & Arts FEDUA and the Auchmuty Library.

The aim was to bring students into our world; working with archives across 50,000 years, digitising the NBN Film and Magnetic Tape Archive, 3D scanning objects etc and getting real world experiences across the GLAM activities of digitisation….

GLAMx – What is it?


GLAMx Lab – AV Digitisation NBN Television Archive


Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Projects


GLAMx – Community Impact


Living Histories @ UON Digital Platform


[Slides 21, 22,23]  … and Digitalisation

And digitalisation…in other words the possibilities that digitised data opens up such as mapping maps across Google Earth, then mapping resources across those maps that are contextually associated with them, e.g. Snowball images over 1890s maps. This also includes anything now emerging using digital data in new and exciting ways of visualisation and access.

Digitalisation – Portion of 1861 plan of East Maitland overlayed with 2019 Landscape


Digitalisation – Lachlan Wetherall’s Visual Index


Digitalisation – Mapping Photographs to a contextual landscape


[Slide 24] – Deep Time

Deep Time, 6,700-year-old archaeological dig in Newcastle West, on the original location of the former dance hall the Palais Royale.

This dig made national news for all the wrong reasons, and triggered a review of the state legislation relating to Aboriginal heritage.

The simulation mines our 3D digital objects in living histories data platform, and exports them into a 3D recreation of the dig.

Deep Time


[Slides 26-27-28] Victoria Theatre Reconstruction 1891

Another project involved recreating the Victoria Theatre in Perkins Street of 1891. This reconstruction used long lost archival records, including 8 volumes of archives, uncovered during the process by the Newcastle community.


They tracked down this guy, Mr Brian Brown, (on the right) who had them sitting in his garage for over 30 years. He said he was in charge of winding up the business, but couldn’t bring himself to destroy the original records. They sat there until this point, and he donated the records to the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections.

IT Innovation Team Gaute and Vendela, with Victoria Theatre donor of archival maps and documents, Brian Brown


Victoria Theatre 1891 Reconstruction

[Slide 29] Beware the Shortcomings of “Digital”

The shortcomings of the digital world, as well as the shortcomings of all our formats of human expression across the centuries. Digital is great, but beware.

Longevity of an inscription on a stone is 10,000 years. (Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte?, 2015)

According to this documentary Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte? (English: Do our computers have short memories?) (2015)[ Note: This documentary is in French. Click on the “Settings” icon, select “Subtitles/CC,” and then click “Auto Translate” for a list of languages]:

All human expression has its time limits. E.g., An inscription on stone can last up to 10,000 years,

[Slide 30] On parchment, 1000 years.

On parchment, 1000 years. (Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte?, 2015)

[Slide 31] On film, 100 years

On film, 100 years (Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte?, 2015)

[Slide 32] On vinyl, 50 years

On vinyl, 50 years (Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte?, 2015)

[Slide 33] On CD-ROM? 500 years until a French team in 2003 discovered an oxidised particle that could destroy the data on the disc, rendering the CDrom not a solution for our future data.

CDrom? The disc of the future? (Nos ordinateurs ont-ils la mémoire courte?, 2015)

[Slide 34] – Data on a Planetary Scale – the Stats

Data on a planetary scale – We are kidding ourselves if all this data will be retrievable.

There will be data loss at some point.

Digitise to communicate, and to make the physical world (whilst looking after the physical things) we live in better.

Some things can’t be saved, such film and magnetic tape, but we can retard its disintegration with proper storage conditions.

Data on a planetary scale (Sourced from End of Memory, 2018)


[Slide 35] – Alan Watts – Address to the IBM Engineers 1969

Alan Watts warned the IBM engineers as early as 1969 that digitising everything was folly.

He warned them that they would be chasing their tails for the rest of eternity trying to digitise the world.

In a talk given to the IBM Systems Group, Alan Watts describes the “wiggly world of nature” and the net we cast over it. For a transcription see:

He said:

“if I’m going to make a big pitch—is that we’ve run into a cultural situation where we’ve confused the symbol with the physical reality, the money with the wealth, and the menu with the dinner. And we’re starving on eating menus”

In other words:

“Don’t confuse the menu with the meal.”

Alan Watts address to the IBM Engineers, 1969



[Slides 36-37-38] Star Wars Obi-Wan in the Archives

Obi-wan in the Archives.

“If an item does not appear in our records, it doesn’t exist”

“If an item does not appear in our records… Impossible. Perhaps the archives are incomplete. (Star Wars II)


“If an item does not appear in our records…it does not exist” (Star Wars II Attack of the Clones)


[Slide 39] The Time Machine (1960)

The Time Machine (1960). Have we become the Eloi?

“I can learn all about you from books”

“I can learn about you from books. They’ll tell me what I want to know.” (The Time Machine, 1960)

[Slide 40] The Time Machine (1960).

“Yes, they do tell me all about you.”

“Yes, they do tell me all about you.” (The Time Machine, 1960)

[Slides 41- 42] GLAMtopia

Dream time. GLAMtopia?

To help solve the myriad of social, environmental and personal problems we and our world face we need:

  • proper conservation facilities to look after our physical items; to clean, prepare, repair and rehouse.
  • proper storage facilities, with appropriate environmental conditions for each format.
  • the ability to digitise anything we need to, and
  • areas for the community to access this material to engage with it physically or virtually, manipulate data, play around with new ways of bringing it to people.




The horizons of GLAMtopia

[Slide 43] – Recipe for Future Memory? Share

The only things that have come down to us in their complete form from the ancient world have been the Bible, and complete works of Plato. Why? Because they were copied and shared.

Recipe for the future of memory is to share.


The future of memory is to SHARE.

[Slide 44] Dream of Heaven as a Dark Polished Crater

Personal bit: Dream of polished crater, 1992, my dark black obsidian mirror. This was my “big” dream.

“The philosopher’s stone is a gigantic crater on the surface of the earth, made of a dark stone, like basalt, which has been polished smooth over countless centuries and aeons. Each soul polishes its little bit.”


This is the dream I had on Monday 6th June, 1992 which showed heaven or paradise to be a huge polished dark crater upon the surface of the earth.

“The dream began as a series of fades.

A rather beautiful blonde woman was talking to me. She was discussing things about feminity, life, wisdom in various parts of a house, in doorways. All the while I was not listening but admiring her visually. She became bemused and called to a female friend “Come N.. let us go to bliss…”

I felt like I had blown it. I had stuffed up one of those moments in dreams where a teacher tells you some interesting stuff. In my case the teacher was not an old man with a beard, but a young woman.

Into a room I find myself trying to find a door. The room is full of chairs, trinkets, picture frames, all beautiful and cluttered. The room and objects all belonged to W.E. – an old flatmate. I was frantically trying to find a door and suddenly I saw an old friend from school. I ask him “Why do people collect so many chairs? Why don’t they collect doors? A door is what I want!”

I found a door and escaped into an ancient looking dungeon or gaol. The people were zombie like and marching up and down staircases like the figures of an Escher engraving. I asked one of the men the direction out, but I could not understand or remember what he said.

I decided to go into another room. At the entrance I met a man who directed me to another who had many books on the esoteric and occult arts. He said to me “You should ring me sometime, I could give you some advice.”

I entered a room which was a hall or warehouse with a path leading all the way to another door at the opposite end of the building. As I rushed to walk  along the path, I ran into three people of Asian appearance performing what looked like a ritual which involved the placing of three towels on the ground, and arrangement of various items. As I stepped back into the small crowd watching, the sign was given that a  ritual oracle was in progress. It was written on the ground. The one man and two women had been performing this ritual at points along the path. The oracle consisted of a pot boiling water with things in it. In my case the pot contained marbled chess pieces in a boiling pot.

I came upon a cave. As I began to climb up the cave, it became more and more narrower and constricting, until it became painful. I saw a point of light which I just had to reach, managing to carefully place my head through the small hole where i glimpsed… heaven, bliss, nirvana, whatever you wish to call it – a flash and then I placed my head back inside the cave. It was an oval crater of dark rock like basalt, polished smooth and absolutely huge.

I crawled back absolutely amazed.

Crawling down the cavity I noticed small Mayan/Aztec cartoon figures carved into the rock and others by cartoonist Larson which I looked for a small moment which appeared to consist of a series of carbon heads of birds.

Exiting the cave I found myself upon a boat on the sea traveling away from the huge dark crater. The people on the boat looked like a bunch of mobsters. One was sitting in a chair, a handsome young man. I asked the men if it was they who had traveled to the dark crater. They said yes and told me how important such an event was. “Do you know the deals I had to make to get a glimpse of that thing” the handsome man said. I asked if we could go back for another look. He flippantly threw his arms in the arms and said in a loud voice, sarcastically, “Okay, lets go back!”

I found myself in the room of chairs again. Only now it was aruin, full of garbage and grease stains on the floor. Outside I could see beings moving around the house. Below I could hear the sound of chipping rock. I realised that these beings were not human but zombies.

The whole house would have to be destroyed by fire. I lit the room of chairs and the whole house began to burn, I ran into the backyard and made sure none of the zombie creatures could see me. I escaped through a hole in the fence.

In the distance I could see a woman riding a penny farthing. I ran to another house with my wife inside sitting on a chair. I could see the other house burn.

A burn’t man approached me who I had loved as a father. He came to me with tears of happiness and asked how much money he owed. He took out $150 dollars in 16th-17th century looking money and gave it to me. We hugged. It was like the ending of a grand film. The house had to burn so that his soul could be free. He was waiting for someone with the courage to do it. Now he can proceed on his way to heaven.

“How’s that for a corny ending?” I said.”

“Heaven as a dark polished crater” (Dream by Gionni Di Gravio, 1992)


[Slide 45] Black Obsidian Mirrors and the Pupils of Our Eyes

Obsidian mirror in our eye; the gateways to the soul. Professor Harold Tarrant, former Head of  Classics at the University of Newcastle once gave a seminar back in 2005 on Simplicius of Cilicia’s commentary on Plato’s Alcibades I.

Simplicius used the metaphorical image of seeing one’s self reflected in the eyes of another represented by the idea of the human eyes as being windows to the soul; as a student or “pupil” is taught by a teacher.

As a child, my father would sit me on his knee asking me to look into his eyes to see the image of the person who loved you reflected.

I now see the connections between the black obsidian mirror, our quest for universal divine knowledge, and Plato’s beautiful image.

“Eyes are the mirrors of the soul”

[Slide 46] It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

Thank you.

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” (It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946)


Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist & Chair, The Hunter Living Histories

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