-- NerminElsherif - 16 Aug 2018

Technobiographies of an Imagined Past

---+++ Team Members

Nermin Elsherif

Abdel-rahman Hassan

Michele Invernizzi

Tayfun Kasapoğlu

Nadine Werner

Ilaria Zonda

---+++ Summary of Key Findings

There is a network of Facebook pages that competes in using vintage photographs of egypt to ignite a practice or remembering the past. The images posted in the facebook page “1900 Alexandria” show that most common objects of remembrance are related to a specific socio-cultural imaginary of modernity:19th and 20th century colonial architecture, vintage memorabilia related to the cosmopolitan community, personal photographs, and dominantly sea views.The user reaction analysis elicited questions of how far do the followers abide to the curatorial narrative of the page admin. The language analysis of the comments showed the pervasiveness of the past tense in the text.

---+++ 1.Introduction

What does ‘remembering together’ mean in the age of social media? This study investigates how the city of Alexandria, Egypt is remembered within Facebook communities that depend heavily on vintage photographs and memorabilia as an evidence of a once had modernity. It focuses on Arab middle-class imaginaries of modernity from the early 1900s until 1967 that represent a secular, cosmopolitan, industrial community that represents itself as the threshold between the East and the West, the cultural and economical southern port city of the Mediterranean. It explores how does memory work through the circulation of these photographs and the relation they have with multiple modalities of text (posts, comments) and reactions (like, love, share, etc.)

---+++ 2. Initial Data Set

Google Query of Alexandria in the good old days, ايام زمان اسكندرية

The images, comments, and reaction of the Facebook Page ‘1900 Alexandria’ from January 1st 2018 till, 12 July 2018.

---+++ 3. Research Questions

What constitutes memoryscapes in Facebook communities? What is the narrative of remembrance taking place? What is the relationship between the image and the text in these Facebook memoryscapes of Alexandria?

---+++ 4. Methodology

We started by defining the network of Facebook pages dedicated to the practice of remembering Alexandria through querying the words أيام زمان اسكندرية in Google (translates to Alexandria in the old days), which indicated the top three pages. We then conducted a page like analysis (depth 2) between the three pages to find the patterns of liking among them. Since Alexandria 1900 had the biggest number of followers we decided to focus on it as an exemplary memoryscape. We scrapped the full data of the page, and downloaded the full images via netvizz. We ran the images through Imagga to find out how the machine reads them. Accordingly we were able to visualize the objects in the vintage photographs. Meanwhile we started to trace back the source of images most commented upon and with the highest interactions via Google Image search and Tineye. We also produced visualizations of the reactions to these images, to find out the most liked, loved, sad,etc. In an attempt to understand the language related to the text, we have extracted the most commented upon posts in the page data module and run the comments of the most commented photo posts through ALP (an online Arabic Linguistic analysis tool).

---+++ 5. Findings

The page like analysis between the top three pages queried from google indicated the presence of a network of pages that use vintage photographs from Egypt to ignite a narrative of remembrance. These pages have a varying population of followers and share several common interests. Since the Facebook page “1900 Alexandria” appeared to have the biggest population of followers and the largest collection of vintage photographs, we decided to conduct further analysis on it as an exemplary memoryscape. By downloading all the image posts from the page and running them through Immagga to find out the objects represented in these images, to understand what is really remembered in this group. The machine reading of the images showed tags like: paper, antique, ancient, old, historic, architecture, urban cityscape, transportation people. Although such tags were useful in organizing a big set of more than 2500 images, they were still culturally blind to the particularities of our case. The machine read ‘architecture’ but off course it could not define what type of architecture, and what does it represent. Thus, we realized that we needed to re-read the images after the first labeling of the machine. Then we started to realize that what the machine labeled as ‘architecture’ were all images for the European quarter of Alexandria that was built from the 1890s by French and Italian architects, thus it was a very specific type of architecture related to a specific historic moment.

The tracing of the image sources via Google search and Tineye showed that most of these images were gathered from personal blogs and websites, then from other Facebook pages (which indicates the circulation of images from one memoryscape/ Fan page to the other), Flickr, and other online archives like that of the Library of congress, etc.

The analysis of the reactions to the photo posts in the facebook page “1900 Alexandria” led to an unexpected finding. By looking at the corpus and noticing the dominance of the vintage photographs, usually torn out black and white images that are scanned, and the narrative adopted by the page admin and his curatorial choices, we expected that the image with the most interactions should probably be an old torn out image. However, the statistical analysis proved us wrong, the most interacted image was a coloured recent photograph of an 1908 coffee house in Alexandria. Apparently, the followers of the page were more able to react to a place that they themselves have experienced and that is still present in the everyday life of the city.

Topic revision: r1 - 16 Aug 2018, NerminElsherif
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