Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Scott M. Walus


This study explores how a digital music archive tells the story and contributes to the public memory of cult bands. Utilizing the Grateful Dead Archive Online (GDAO) as the primary data source, the researcher obtained a population of 26,835 items and categorized them by the production method of fan or band, item type, era, and logo. Content analysis illustrated themes within the archive in relation to the fannish production and activity within the fandom of the Grateful Dead. The span of this specific fandom spreads across five decades and sheds light onto the ways in which the fandom surrounding cult bands has evolved due to emergent technologies in the digital era. Specifically, the findings of this study demonstrate that the era totals within the archive do not correspond with the band's popularity due to a significant increase of items representing the 1980s with a total of 10,653 items and the 1990s with a total of 12,775 items. These high numbers result from the band's mainstream impact and a eulogizing function for Jerry Garcia in 1995. The impact co-branding had on this iconic brand through the diversity in fan-branding and logo utilization further blurs the lines between producers and consumers in the Grateful Dead fan community. Findings also demonstrated the implications of what history chooses to remember through the archiving process that can be attributed to what Williams (1961) refers to as "retro culture" in the digital era. This study further illustrates the gaps within the archival history of the Grateful Dead due to the selection process involved in digital archiving. Finally, this study demonstrates the ways in which fandom is constantly in flux between the public and private spheres and how the implementation of an official online archive further blurs these distinctions. The archiving contained within the Grateful Dead Archive Online preserves history for future generations and provides a definitive account of the band and its surrounding fandom. The archive will be all that is left once the original band members and Deadheads are no longer with us. The legacy of this cultural phenomenon is formed and preserved by the archive and will be taken as the official history, despite any gaps that are left in the collection. This study contributes to the field of communication by dissecting the radical public relations and branding strategies that were employed by the Grateful Dead and how the fan community personalized this brand and made it their own. Additionally, this study maps the evolution of fandom in eras of emergent technological advances and it interrogates the ways in which history is preserved and communicated to future scholars and fans.