Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Manning Archive": Narrating a Family's Life Through What They Saved UPDATED for video

Back in the old days, when I was an academic, a good deal of my scholarship had to do with narrative,  One of my interests was in narrative and identity.  That is (using scholarship and theory), I thought about the ways people “story” or “narrate” their lives.  Out of all the things that have happened in a lifetime, one chooses those events thought to be most salient and puts them into a sequence that is both temporal and causal to suggest “who I am.”. 

When my mother died, she left a letter in which she designated for each child, what items she specifically wanted each to have.  The rest was for us all to share.  Part of what she wanted me to have were the family papers and pictures, “so that they would stay together.”

I have thought about why she felt it was important that these documents and mementos “stay together.”  It was almost like these papers were a collection, or an archive, that had coherence and meaning.  But what kind of an archive was it?

I think many of us have such family “archives,” and the documents collected in those archives will tell stories of families that are both familiar and unique.  In my case, the objects saved by my mother (and before her my grandmother) included letters, pictures, diaries, scrapbooks, autograph books, telegrams, recipes, and other artifacts.  I have named this informal collection “The Manning Archive.”

“The Manning Archive” tells the multiple stories of my mother and her family in Manning South Carolina, as well as those of my mother and father, brothers and sister while we grew up.  These stories include our history as a particular family: marriages, births and deaths,  life in a very small town in the American South, Jewish Americans, people who valued certain accomplishments and education.  The collection was not put together systematically; indeed, it survived as a jumble of papers in the bottom drawers of a sideboard.  But it does represent objects that were chosen and saved, and it consequently narrates a history.    

What follows is a short video in which I tried to document this archive and suggest its significance.  It was given at an academic conference on narrative and identity.  Because the narrative I wanted to describe and consider was constituted by material objects—the things my grandmother and mother thought worth saving—I wanted to find a format or a medium that would suggest these objects not just in my words but in some version of their in material selves.   

(Two formats: one on Blog; other on Youtube)

video





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