Your life, in archives

We all have a Pandora’s Box or two — full of old letters, postcards, broken toys, faded photographs, signed matchboxes, chocolate wrappers — that occupy the least visited, dustiest corner of our home.

If you have been trying to find ways of organising the ‘useless’ things your mother has threatened to discard, make your way to home store Anemos at Raghuvanshi Mills, Lower Parel on August 1 and attend an introductory workshop on the Art of Archiving.

Vrunda Pathare, chief archivist at Godrej is one of the key speakers at the Art of Archiving Workshop to be held on August 1 at Anemos, Lower Parel. Pic/Satyajit Desai 

Conducted by Godrej Archives and Avid Learning — that fosters learning through creative workshops and discussion — will start with 10-minute individual presentations by Vrunda Pathare, Anupam Shah, a heritage conservationist, and journalist Sidharth Bhatia. Interactions with the audience will follow. Participants will learn what objects can be archived, the different kinds of archiving, and how to begin the process.

Pathare, chief archivist at Godrej Archives, located in Vikhroli (West), one of the speakers at the workshop, says archiving helps bring order to things. “Initially, people start collecting things as a hobby, but often, the collection ends up in a godown. Archiving is done on three levels — personal, family and institutional. Preserving things of unique importance for posterity needs a lot of thought, research and organisation.”

Why archive?
From business development to family history, archiving helps you form a coherent story, where your goal is to leave behind a legacy or to simply organise your collection. Pathare adds, “In India, people collect film posters, stamps, coins, telephones, matchboxes, padlocks and even Cadbury wrappers.”

Often, people are archiving without knowing they’re doing so, and that, says Pathare, is important because it’s a record for future generations and also helps to study the present. “Today, on social networking sites like Facebook, youngsters are creating virtual archives by uploading old photos, writing about things they loved and did 10 years ago, blogging about their hometown, etc. They are also witnessing change and indulging in the joys of the past through blogs, posts and photos. Archives reflect what society thinks. If we don’t record that, there will be a dark age — a common obstacle historians face when they don’t have enough recorded facts of an era,” says Pathare.

Archiving can also take an oral form. “While conducting labour studies of mill workers, historians sat down with the people who suffered through the closure of the mills and wrote down their stories. Their first-person experience is what has been the crux of the records,” explains Pathare, who joined the Godrej team as chief archivist in 2006. Godrej Archives made its formal beginning as a department in the year 2006 to organisematerial that contained its history in a proper manner. “We surveyed the organisational structure of the company and products, and studied a timeline, and accordingly hunted for historical records and objects. Everything that comes in gets an accession code.

Records are maintained in Excel sheets and plans to digitise the records and create a software are in the pipeline. “Archiving is not about collecting alone. It is also about selecting. For example, at Godrej, we were conducting a survey of records a few years ago in the Bengaluru branch, during which we came across several invoices for products. One of them was by Anil Kumble, who had ordered a steel filing cabinet. Kumble being a celebrity, this discovery was obviously important to us. Another important archiving phase was when we stopped the manufacturing the typewriter. We then began archiving all paperwork and products attached to it. An old I-card of a typewriter mechanic became a priceless possession. We had a tough time tracking the first typewriter the company manufactured but a Delhi dealer sourced it for us. Now, all this is part of the repository,” says Pathare, adding that they also archive minutes of their meetings, as they reflect the thought process and what led to a decision.

>> Keep paper records as flat as possible
>> Paper should never be preserved in PVC plastic, as it corrodes and releases oils that damage documents. The same goes for photographs
>> Lamination is an irreversible process, and the humidity can make the document illegible over time
>> If a paper is sandwiched between OHP sheets and left flat, it will survive intact for a 100 years.
>> Use paper boxes to protect them from light and dust. Do not store in hot or damp places
>> Metal pins and staplers should be removed prior to storage

In the US, one of the Archives started a project called Ask Your Grandmother, a project to help Americans trace history as Americans have witnessed it. “We are living in beautiful times and so did our parents and grandparents. The coming generation will take as much interest in us, as we do in our family archives. It is important to research and interview a family member or source who can give you details. Start with one family member and speak to him/her about his/her career, and then chart the historical and political setting of the times. This helps you know where you belong,” says Pathare. 

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