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The family archive

15 December 2014

Family Archive

Many families own some sort of 'family archive'; documents, photographs, heirlooms, scrapbooks, recipes and a whole range of other items that reveal insights into past generations and preserve family stories for future ones.

Now, a new research project led by Dr Vicky Crewe of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion will explore how these archives help mould a sense of family identity.

The Family Archive Project focuses on comparing the ways in which modern families collect and preserve treasured possessions with similar practices in the past, using case studies ranging from Roman family shrines to the preservation of family histories in mid-20th-century Britain.

The project investigates how the family unit makes conscious use of curated possessions - including documents, images, objects and other materials - to develop a familial identity based on past and present generations, and how this is transmitted to future family members.

The research team aims to answer questions such as: what stories and memories do older family members pass to future generations through family possessions? How has this changed over time? How does this impact upon a family's collective identity? And how do families relate their own histories and memories to wider national and international historical events?

Dr Crewe said: "The popularity of family history has grown hugely in recent decades, but it raises questions about who we class as a 'historian' or a 'curator'. In the Family Archive Project we're exploring the idea that members of the public can be both of those things, and more. We want to find out what sorts of heirlooms modern families hold onto and why, but we're also interested in how families in the past did this too. The project team includes an archaeologist, a historian, a Classicist and a museum studies expert, meaning that we're able to explore this topic from many different angles."

The Family Archive Project is one of 10 announced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under its Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past theme which is specifically for early career researchers.

Dr Crewe is also co-investigator on another of the new projects, which explores how children have been used to represent certain futures, and to what effect, in modern British and French history.