Experiencing the Historical Record: A Psychosocial/Psychodynamic Method for Working with Archival Materials

Lu, Kevin and Singh, Iqbal (2023) Experiencing the Historical Record: A Psychosocial/Psychodynamic Method for Working with Archival Materials. In: Archives and Emotions. Bloomsbury, London. (In Press)


In this chapter, we propose that an acknowledgement of subjectivity in archival work cannot ignore the ways in which our psychology, experiences, and emotional reactions shape, in productive ways, our engagement with specific types of archival material. The formulation of our interdisciplinary method involves contributions from records specialists at The National Archives, mental health professionals, academics, and participants as co-researchers. Combining autoethnographic and arts-based methods, our group work is conducted within the parameters of a psychotherapeutically-contained space aimed at creating opportunities for reflection that honour the place of emotions in archival research. Practices and activities are mobilised to help process reactions to archival documents that capture past traumas. Responses have included rage, grief, memories of both individual and collective trauma, and embodied reactions. The theories of psychoanalysis are mobilized – under the supervision of psychotherapists and psychosocial researchers – to facilitate understanding and frame tentative interpretations. Such an interdisciplinary method is not without its challenges – including the added value of such an approach when compared to other archival practices – and these will be discussed further. In developing this method, our intention is not only to create greater space for the place of emotions in archival research, but to break down barriers preventing more robust public engagement while offering to archive professionals and historians tools and theoretical frameworks to enrich the histories they tell. This could include the mobilisation of arts-based methods to give voice to the emotions encountered and the development of genosociograms to complement and deepen an understanding of the researcher’s motivations and journey into archival materials.


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