How to create an archive of our memories
Published March 2021
Promemoria – An outline
Chapter 1 – Fortunately we know how to forget
In this chapter, the author briefly introduces us to his profession of archivist and states how he intends to give everyone the tools with which to collect and preserve personal memories.
When we move house, we decide what to keep and what to throw away, and where things should go in the new house – the same process is applied in our memory with things we want to remember and how we want to go about it.
In both cases, it’s a question of reorganising the past while thinking about the future. In the case of the archive of our memories, we have to decide what is worth remembering, and then organise in such a way as to keep them and pass them on, becoming the ‘archivists of ourselves’.
Exercises with chapter 1 – The tools of the trade
Discover the ‘tools of the trade’, think about who you want to dedicate your archive to, start by making your own ‘time capsule’.
Chapter 2 – The Principle of an Archive
One of the magical powers of the archive is how it prolongs the time established for every thing, giving it a new purpose after the initial purpose has expired. Because what the archive gives back to us is something totally different from what was put into it, a metamorphosis takes place – from object of use to memory, from memory to emotion. A simple cash receipt can become a piece of our story if it has the echo of an old gift or if it is a link to our memory of a surprised friend, or an emotion experienced.
What do you keep in a personal archive? What should accompany an object to turn it into “something more than an object”? What makes a paper placemat more valuable than a complete linen bedset?
Exercises with chapter 2 – The ritual of the archive
What can and cannot go into a personal archive. How to organise an archive ritual, why it is a time of fun, and how to start putting away the things we want to keep.
Chapter 3 – Forgetting or, rather, archiving
Having to remembering everything would be agony, not only because of the painful experiences that would make our life sad, but also because each single moment would become one of the many. Our brain lets slip away, or fails to record, all those things it (no longer) considers relevant. When we decide to “hold on to” something, we use diaries, photographs, post-its, notes, tattoos … Keeping the things that are really important to us, letting go of the rest, this is what we should do with our archive. Pick out to highlight. In this chapter we look at how to decide what to keep and see how things can change their emotional and sentimental value over time.
Exercises with chapter 3 – The photo archive
We try to choose, from the many, which photographs to keep, we work on them to make them unique, we understand what we may need in the future to remind us of a day, a sunset, a face, etc.
Chapter 4 – The awakening of things
The ability to question objects is one of the fundamental skills of our inner archivist. Certain objects can absorb and bear witness to what we are and have been, provided we take care of them. They are ‘dense objects’, with high emotional value, unique and irreplaceable. They are much more than they seem, and they have certain powers: Power of writing. Power of taste. Power of proof. Power of encounter. Power of substitution. Power of connection.
To handle without fear these powers “hidden” away in things, the archivist in us must follow a precise formula: Record. Look after. Abandon. Marvel.
Exercises with chapter 4 – Your first Wunderkammer
We build our first Wunderkammer, or Chamber of Curiosities, where memory becomes wonder and amazement.
Chapter 5 – Complicated relationships
Our mind is like a giant spider’s web. The moment we come across something new, it is caught in the web, connecting to hubs, concepts and experiences that were already there.
An archive is not just an accumulation of independent objects and documents, but a complex set of data and relationships which, only in their entirety, can recount every aspect of the person that created it. Its value lies in the way the objects are interconnected, in the various different relationships they have and through which they exchange with one another. The way in which we organise and interconnect the objects in our archive is the only way to make it readable to those who will want to open and discover it one day. In this chapter we will discover how a simple, well-produced list can be the best means of giving a sense to our memories.
Exercises with chapter 5 – Relationships and emotions
We make cards of our objects and create the network of links that give our archive meaning.
Chapter 6 – A question of labels
Cataloguing is communicative, an act that prepares us to share the most intimate and precious part of ourselves. But in order to be able to search our archive, things must first have been called by their right name. The same goes for our feelings, which have to be known and catalogued. In this chapter we try to understand what it means to be objective when it comes to filing a memory or an emotion. Can we be truly objective and what must we have in mind when deciding that something should be kept and archived?
Exercises with chapter 6 – Organising memories
How to physically organise memories and what making an inventory means. What is an archive card and how to make one.
Chapter 7 – The perfect explorer’s handbook
Without a purpose and a plan, memory is a waste of time. Our archive must therefore be ‘useful’ to those who will ask questions in the future. It is a question of putting experiences and thoughts in the right place, while also putting our mistakes, disappointments, changes of course in the right order. Being clear and truthful, recording and keeping even what we least like about ourselves, or things we are not proud of, will make the archive resemble us, and not what we want others to think of us.
But how do things change over time within our archive? When someone opens it in 50, 100 or 200 years’ time, what information will they need to find inside it to be able to decipher the content we have left? Even if it means taking some risks, we learn to leave a mark in our archive that describes us for real, not for how we would like to be remembered.
Exercises with chapter 7 – Leaving a mark
We learn how to make an ex-libris and tell the story of the objects, their owners and how they came to us.
Chapter 8 – Tales for a rainy day
How do you read an archive once it has been opened? Anyone telling a story can start from wherever they want and go on as far as they think they should. In the same way, whoever reads our story may find several possible narratives. We will show them which paths to go down, because we need to observe some rules even when telling our story. In this chapter, we produce routes and possible ways of narrating the archive that we have assembled.
Exercises with chapter 8 – Oral memories
How to collect oral memories and how to use them in the archive. How to organise an archive party.
Chapter 9 – Will we be good ancestors?
When an archive is closed, its real life starts. This chapter shows us that an archive can have a very long life and can exist without us.
Exercises with chapter 9 – An emotional will
An archive is also a way of making peace with many still open pages in our lives and, when this happens, it also becomes possible to write one of the many letters we never had the courage to write. Now is the time to do it.