Case Studies

And… we’re off!

By Anna Woodham, Co-Investigator, University of Birmingham


This Tuesday saw the first meeting of the project team and the Advisory Board to formally kick-start the Family Archive research project. We are all really excited to get started on our individual case studies and start planning our project events! Keep reading this blog for updates and insights as we go along.

Over the past few months I’ve been mulling over some of the themes of the project and my case study in particular. I’m very interested in how we make use of the past in the present and how the past shapes our individual and family identities. So, rather than examining a particular historical period and thinking about what a ‘Family Archive’ might have looked like or consisted of then, I want to think about what this might mean today. Do we consciously curate our own family identities? And if so, how? Who does the curating within a family? And what decisions and activities does this involve?

I recently visited the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, a place where the idea of a family archive is I think particularly visible. When museums represent recent migration there are key objects they often use to tell these stories, the tatty, worn-out suitcase for example is a powerful symbol of transition and movement and is something you will regularly find in exhibitions on migration. The suitcase, and the things it contains are more than just mundane objects, they are ‘curated’, the result of a decision making process by an individual of what to take and what to leave behind. A browse in the museum gift shop later made me consider how prominent (and commercially profitable) the ‘curation’ of family memories is and the different forms this practice might take.


‘Journal of a lifetime’ on display at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne. Photo by Anna Woodham

This series of journals for example offers to capture family memories ‘from you to me’. The idea isthat the journal is purchased for a mother, father, grandparent, sibling or best friend who then answers the questions posed at the top of each blank page such as ‘tell me your favourite family stories’ and ‘what family traditions do you continue to follow’. The completed journal is then returned to the purchaser. I wonder what conversations recording our memories like this prompts, what happens to the journal in years to come and how it might shape our perspective on family histories.

If you are interested in keeping in touch with us, and following our project as it evolves we will are using the #famarchive on Twitter.



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