I was granted a travelling fellowship in 2017 to support an ongoing project exploring the intersection of personal and historical memory within physical, social and archival spaces, which will culminate in the re-creation of the journey that two of my ancestors took through Europe in 1844. For five weeks, I will travel across seven countries to gather historical data, images, natural materials and cultural artifacts.
In 1844, my ancestor Calvin Jones traveled from Tennessee to Europe with his daughter Octavia. Each kept a journal, and Octavia also kept a “book of relics,” in which she pressed plant specimens from each of the locales visited. My project takes these artifacts as the beginning of an investigation into place, memory, and the ways that souvenirs shape the experience of both. My work has enduringly pursued these themes, specifically through the places we inhabit, often using personal family history, homes, and artifacts as inspiration. My work demands an intense immersion in spaces and places, and this process spurs a fascination with the myriad ways of remembering—journals, photographs, souvenirs, relics—and how these cues inflect and affect our memories.
Drawing upon the research I’ve performed for this project, both into my own family history, and the history of the United States and Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, this project will be framed through the questions examining individual versus collective memory as well as the potential violence and erasures enacted through the writing and recording of history. I will also investigate the idea of the “boundary”— geographical, political, cultural and personal—as well as questions of economics and privilege. What conspired to allow for such a journey in 1844, and what are the correspondences between those historical circumstances and my own privilege as a white American moving freely through Europe in this charged political moment? Building upon these formative questions, my project will generate a dialectic between the historical past and my own engagement with it in the present, with meaning emerging from the amorphous space between the two.
Translating the research materials gleaned over the course of my journey—a written journal, material artifacts, and a series of photographs and videos—the ensuing project will stage a dialogue between my family’s history and the environmental, political and social changes that have occurred in the interim 173 years, resulting in the creation of a new and updated archive of a journey.