Each Wednesday, I write a post from my dissertation.
Last week, I talked about how scrapbookers are artists.
Scrapbookers often are historians—specifically, they are their families’ historians. Not all scrapbookers take on the role of historian in terms of learning about their or their family’s past, but the simple act of scrapbooking makes them a record keeper of their present life.
Heritage books in particular draw on history in order to be completed in the first place. Even in non-heritage scrapbooks, scrapbookers relate how they add historical facts and trivia to their scrapbooks. For example, respondents research and include the price of various items during the time period memorialized in heritage scrapbooks. Others include facts about the places he or she visits. Sometimes this involves including memorabilia such as brochures with this information and other times it involves looking up the information and writing it in the scrapbook. Scrapbookers take great care to provide richer stories by putting their stories into a larger cultural context.
One company, It Takes Two®, actually has an entire line of stickers for each year between 1901 and 20010 with information about things such as the price of gas and the number one film from the year in addition to stickers with facts from various national parks and about several different sports. Though respondents do not say they use these stickers, their existence illustrates that this is something many scrapbookers do in their scrapbooks and is at least encouraged by the industry.
For many scrapbookers, it is important to know where they come from, which is why they scrapbook not only the present, but also the past. What scrapbookers are doing is something non-scrapbookers do as well. For example, in 2010 NBC started running a show called Who Do You Think You Are? produced in partnership with ancestry.com where a celebrity with the help of local historians traces a branch of the celebrity’s family tree. The show’s tagline is “To know who you are, you have to know where you come from.” Ancestry.com has one million paying subscribers (and presumably has been used by many more who are no longer subscribers). Some of these subscribers are compiling scrapbooks and many more are compiling variations of scrapbooks through this genealogical research. People use scrapbooking as a way to learn and share their family’s history and thereby demonstrate an identity.
Industry workers encourage scrapbookers to include the historical context in their scrapbook pages. For example, scrapbookers are discouraged from cropping out too much of a photo as they may inadvertently delete some of the historical context (e.g., that orange shag carpeting may be hideous but it dates the photo so some of it should remain in the photo). Scrapbook manufacturers produce products that have a vintage look to recreate a historical moment in time. Though critics opine that scrapbooking is too commercialized because scrapbookers are more likely to use vintage reproductions rather than originals (see Helfand 2008), they are missing the biggest difference in that the reproductions are more likely to be of archival quality. If one purpose of scrapbooking is preservation, then they are not going to use some original items because they will deteriorate and damage photographs and other items on the scrapbook page as they deteriorate.
Are scrapbookers historians? What role does historical work play in your scrapbooking? Join the conversation below or on facebook.
Helfand, Jessica. 2008. Scrapbooks: An American History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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