Building a People’s Archive: Leave a Record of your Life (Guest Blog by Dr Ciara Meehan)

by Fingal Libraries
by Fingal Libraries on May 15, 2015 in Libraries

The Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition opens at the National Print Museum of Ireland in July, and it explores the expectations of Irish housewives in the 1960s. As the curator of this exhibition, I appealed to members of the Irish public to search their homes for domestic items dating from the 1960s. A wedding dress, […]

The Modern Wife, Modern Life exhibition opens at the National Print Museum of Ireland in July, and it explores the expectations of Irish housewives in the 1960s. As the curator of this exhibition, I appealed to members of the Irish public to search their homes for domestic items dating from the 1960s. A wedding dress, a sewing machine, and much loved and still used recipe books are just some of the items that have been loaned for display. Some of the items have been taken down from attics or rescued from the back of a cupboard. It would be a shame to see them returning to such places once the exhibition ends. Not only are they a valuable resource for historians, but they are also testaments to the everyday life of Irish citizens. With this in mind, I have organised a series of road shows around Ireland to collect such items and memories, and to preserve them in a “people’s archive”. The road show comes to Swords Library on 19th May at 6.30pm.

There has been a trend in other countries to record the experience of everyday people whose lives and activities would not otherwise appear in archives. In Britain, the Mass Observation Archive, housed at the University of Sussex, collects material about everyday life. For example, each year, members of the British public are invited to submit a diary entry for a specific date. It’s a great way of seeing how that particular day is experienced in different ways across the country and by different generations. In Italy, the National Diary Archive is a repository of diaries and memoirs written by ‘ordinary’ Italian people. Depositing a diary with this archive gave the contributors a fantastic opportunity to ensure that a record of their life was preserved for future generations – both researchers and their own family members.

My “People’s Archive of the 1960s” aims to replicate this approach, and to provide a space for Irish men and women to leave a record of their lives. Treasured objects will not be retained, but rather they will be scanned and digitised. Interviews can be arranged for those who wish to share their memories. Anyone who can recall the 1960s – regardless of their age during that decade – is both welcome and encouraged to participate. Contributors have the option to put a future release date on their material, and they always retain the right to withdraw their material at any time without penalty or explanation.

If you’re keen to participate or just curious to learn more, come along to the event in Swords library on the evening of 19 May. I will open the event with a short talk about the representation and expectations of Irishwomen in the 1960s using extracts from women’s magazines and some of the objects that I have already collected. After that, the floor will be opened up to audience members who will be invited to share their memories and any objects that they have brought along. Afterwards, these items can be scanned and contact details exchanged to arrange follow-up interviews.

I look forward to meeting you on 19th May, but if you cannot attend, feel free to email me at c.meehan2@herts.ac.uk

Dr Ciara Meehan,

Senior Lecturer in History, University of Hertfordshire,

Curator, Modern Wife, Modern Life: an Exhibition of Women’s Magazines and Objects from 1960s Ireland, National Print Museum of Ireland.

For further information, visit modernwifemodernlifeexhibition.com