Scrapbooking experienced a resurgence a few years ago, with an effervescent range of electronic and paper options becoming available to the new and experienced conserver of memories. This is a practice with a long history and in the modern era, women in particular have been responsible for preserving and arranging their family histories: trials and tribulations; gatherings and celebrations; knobbly knees and new arrivals; and, of course, holidays. This is a physical and emotional burden, taking no little time and effort.
The digital world brings with it new cataloguing challenges. It is so easy to snap away on a digital camera that huge numbers of images can accumulate at even the most minor of occasions. Returning from a holiday, choosing what to keep, delete, print or display can be a difficult task.
Returning home from living abroad brings with it all the paraphernalia of an extended – or indeed multiple – holidays, as well as the life events that have happened in between. After all, most of us try to capture the unusual rather than the ordinary and living in new places can encourage us to see our daily lives as extra-ordinary. Capturing, ordering and packing up memories of a place you are leaving is part and parcel of the process of moving on.
Scrapbooks and other cherished mementoes are also symbols of the uncertainty and apprehension involved in moving. Some are left behind in home countries, trusting to stasis and relatives to keep them safe. Others newly created for departure are carried carefully and cumbersomely onto aeroplanes as hand luggage so that the creator is not parted from them. The fear that modes of transport will fail, that cherished possessions might be lost in the process of moving from one place to another, is in some ways an expression of other fears.
The loss of luggage or of whole container ships is really quite rare but this kind of peril has always been a reality of long distance moves. Sir Stamford Raffles – the founder of British Singapore – and his family lost all of their possessions, including his original collection of natural history drawings, when the boat moving them from Sumatra back to England caught fire shortly after it had set off in 1824.
Most people’s mementoes do not become prized international collections but the hard work and care that go into marshaling memories into more permanent and visible collections means they are preserved for the future, whether proudly displayed or hidden in the attic. This is an important part of moving away and returning home, a way of bringing old homes into new ones and ensuring that mobile identities live with the past as well as the present and the future.