“The Archive is made from selected and consciously chosen documentation from the past and from the mad fragmentations that no one intended to preserve and that just ended up there” (Steedman, 1998:67). I would like to bring up the topic of personal archive work. I would like to suggest that a personal archive is a very complex collection of things; they contain memories which embrace the emotional and intimate geographies of people’s lives.
A few years ago, before I started my undergraduate degree, my grandparents (who now live in France) were driving around their own home-town – this sparked hours/days of reminiscing about ‘the-good-old-times’, of which, I am ashamed to add, I knew very little about. Being the only grand-daughter in the family I thought I would ask them a favour…”pretty please spend some time putting together a collection of stories, histories, photos- anything- of your lives – not only for me but for our future families too”. It was a successful venture resulting in, a few months later, a car load of: diaries, journals, photographs, objects and scrap books arriving. So after a visit to the Royal Geographical Society for a half-day of archival research on the 12th February with my fellow Master’s students, my interest in Archives grew, I would not class myself as a ‘historical geographer’, and definitely not as an Archivist, but I like a challenge, and started to delve into the “Human Geography of a Family” (as my Grandmother called it in her main journal).
As I worked through the journals and collections of photographs and objects I found that not only was it was physically hard work but it was quite an emotional experience as well. This is what I decided to concentrate on for my Element 2 ‘Methods’ essay. Emotional geographies focus on exploring and trying to understand how feelings impact and alter our environments, landscapes and social relations (Ashmore, 2012). Emotions are essential when looking at human behaviour as they also have the ability to facilitate our attachment to people and places, as I found through looking into my Grandparents collection. However, although the importance of emotions is clear, they are commonly avoided as a topic of academic research: they are deliberately left out due their complex nature (Meth, 2003). Emotional geographies are, without a doubt, personal yet at the very core of our collective existence. This emphasis on the significance of embodied knowledge and of celebrating feelings is a challenge to conventional geographical academic writing (Rodaway, 2002). So far through my MA in Cultural Geography I have explored how love can, and should be, an area of geographical study, how diaries can be used as a successful methodological tool for study, and now a paper on how personal archive work can lead to interesting exploration of more than just past environments- but also past emotions. Perhaps this research will lead into more exciting opportunities.
Emma Shenton (MA, Cultural Geography Research)