I’m a self-professed hoarder. I have no intention to make light of what is a legitimate mental health issue, but I do admit that I have a tough time throwing things away. Anyone who has been to my place knows that I just have stuff – old letters and cards, journals, diaries, notebooks, books, travel mementos, flyers and programme booklets – the list goes on.
It’s been nearly three months since I have started work as an archives assistant. Despite the routine work, part of it has been intellectually stimulating. What distinguishes an archive from a repository? Why do we keep? What do we keep? What do we do with it? A part of it is utilitarian, sure, but there is a bigger purpose (there has to be). It is about knowledge production, about legacies, and more importantly it is about access. Many questions that surface revolve around how people think, as well. How do people search?How do you help people make connections between different materials, or to allow them to discover these connections themselves? How do we organise it such that these logics can surface? It has to be about reaching public(s), it has to be about public history, telling stories that inform us of what it means to be human. We learn to be present by learning about the past.
Everything we do is history. Every moment we live in goes by as quick as it arrives. We are born into history, and our entire lives revolve around history – personal, familial, political. Even the planet, the stars, the cosmos, have entire histories before us – all which we hold within ourselves, too. There is so much baggage we embody. All we are is history.
2019 is the year of Singapore’s bicentennial. It is odd, how this event has played out, how different individuals and institutions have chosen to do public histories. It is evident that history is not just about things remembered, but forgotten. We do not ‘lose’ things to history, they just get left behind. So often it is a deliberate choice, and all of us bear responsibility in what we choose to be our history (and thus histories). ‘Hard facts’ and ‘evidence’ do matter, no doubt, but it is also questioning our logics behind deciding what gets to be fact or fiction, our assumptions and biases. Historians are our most important storytellers, but one story alone, is never truly whole. All we are is stories; plural.
I wrote all this just to say that I have to clean my room. I have to start making choices in what I choose to leave behind, who I choose to leave behind. All I am is history, and perhaps finally cleaning up, cleaning out, would mean that I make the choice in how I write my story.