Desert Island Archive

Exploring Archives of photos
from 2011 at Paganel School

Imagine you were to leave three items for future generations to use to study our society, what items would you choose? Or if you could only take three personal items with you onto a desert island, what would they be? These questions can be useful in establishing what is important to you as an individual. What items hold sentimental value? Or perhaps represent a particularly happy memory or an object from a loved one passed on to you. Archives are not only official records held in libraries or museums, archives can be a family photo album or a piece of jewelry from your great grandmother. We can create our own individual archives as representations of our lives and what we consider to be important to us and items which embody personal or family identity.

These were some of the questions we asked the children in Year 5 at Paganel Archive After-school Club, and their responses were surprising. 

Rather than focusing on materialistic items, such as phones or electrical toys most of the children mentioned sentimental items or objects inherited from family members. This shows the continued importance of archives and remembering the past, preoccupation that are perhaps not as underappreciated as we think by younger generations.

Although in modern society technological advances such as the use of cameras and storing photos
and videos on memory sticks and hard drives has reduced the emphasis on traditional physical archives, it does not mean that archives cease to be important or indeed relevant to modern society.
Every day we contribute to growing personal and public archives, with every photo we take and save to our phones or piece of work we save on our computers, we are continuously creating archives.

Yes, not every photo ever taken or every piece of work ever written is useful or illuminating enough
to archive, but it is sometimes what is considered important to an individual, what they considered
to be archive worthy which reveals more about society and those who live in it than the item itself.

The choice process and importance attributed to that item is as useful as the item is for historical analysis and enquiry. This is something which should be emphasised more, as well as recognising the usefulness and significance of individual archives, rather than considering the most important archival material to be that which is in a museum or library where it is barely viewed by the general public.

In this sense, the archive club highlights to the children the importance of individual histories and shows them how easily they can connect with local or personal family histories through archives and personal possessions.

Robyn O’Halloran
UoB PHC internship

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