How we remember
August 26, 2022
While I’m on a break from work, I open my computer a lot less – usually to do something mundane or overly meticulous, like, make a list, update a spreadsheet or organise photographs in my drive.
One of my lists tallies how many days of the month that I’ve surfed. A kindred spreadsheet includes all the books I’ve read since 2017. And photographs in my Google Drive are organised by month.
I’ve been drawn to this level of chronicling since I was young. I enjoy knowing that someday I can go back and relive a moment – finding a relevant playlist, photograph and my favourite book at that point in time.
After recently finishing Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House, where she chronicles her and her families’ histories and experiences of living in New Orleans East, I started to reflect on this act of archiving.
Broom finds her experience, and that of her neighbourhood, unmentioned in New Orleans’ history books and news stories – an otherwise widely studied, celebrated and documented city. She writes to understand, to call out, to remember, and to archive.
And while The Yellow House is Broom’s own account, she weaves in her mother’s, siblings’, aunt’s and uncle’s words, too.
Archivist and activist, Allison Boucher Krebs, said:
An archive needs to be a yarning, a conversation, with all the tacit protocols involved in a conversation between people, the respect in engagement that allows a conversation to continue over time, to be returned to, to grow and deepen, within a shared creative space. Yarning implicitly acknowledges the various contributors, embraces their contributions. It is by nature co-creative.
Archives tell stories. While some might tell the (monotonous) story of how many surfs I’ve had this month – told from a singular perspective, mine alone – others may weave together identities, accounts and understandings.
I’ve stumbled upon various ‘community archives’ or ‘community memory archives,’ in my quest to understand my chronicles.
And, in their focus on engaging individuals in a collective act of storytelling, it feels there may be something we, as people who design, may learn from them.
Takachizu is a community archive identifying and reflecting “on that which is most valuable, celebrated, and in need of protection in Little Tokyo.” The “treasures,” as they call them, were gathered in workshops with residents and visitors to Little Tokyo, and have since been documented and shared in an exhibition and online. The intent is to influence a planning initiative for the area.
Sonoma Responds is a “community memory archive,” launched in response to the pandemic. The artefacts are contributed by individuals in the community and range from a spreadsheet listing local businesses owned by Black, Native, People of Color and People of Color immigrants, to a drawing of a rose in someone’s backyard.
SAADA “documents, preserves, and shares stories of South Asian Americans to ensure their inclusion in the American story.” From their creators page, you can quickly see how many individuals have contributed to an archive currently holding 4,779 items.
This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.