Family History, Ancestral Place and Diaspora: material culture and community heritage for people of Punjabi descent in London
Abstract This thesis examines the role of family history, ancestral place, and diaspora for people of Punjabi descent in London. It examines how family history is constructed in relation to identity and heritage across two generations through memories, and experiences of ancestral place. It explores the role of material cultures for engaging with family history and ancestral place, chiefly through the collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) and through participants’ personal family objects. It also reviews how examples of community archives are being used to explore the relationship between family history, ancestral place, and diaspora, and are contributing to the idea of a postcolonial archive. This research considers what it means to be using imperial collections to explore family history, and key events which impacted on family histories, notably the Partition of India. The research explores the potential for archival spaces to facilitate community memories which I argue can act as a site for community memory and healing. Study of the material culture within family archives revealed how specific objects and photographs embody significant family relationships and memories of ancestral place. These individual narratives around family objects are considered in the wider context of collective histories and memory and how they contribute to a growing number of community-led projects. The study used collaborative and inter-generational methodologies, drawing upon participatory workshops with people with diasporic connections to Punjab. Along with this, individual semi-structured interviews were carried out with first and second generations of people living in London. Further interviews were carried out with staff who worked in museums and archives, to assess how they were engaging with Punjabi communities to explore family history and ancestral place. The research makes a distinctive contribution to the growing field of studies in genealogy, geography, and diaspora, and argues that ancestral place is crucial to family history. Central to the research is the relationship between public and private collections, where I suggest the material culture relating to family archives can provide valuable counter-narratives to the state/institutional led official records and are forming a framework for the postcolonial archive. These methodologies for working with collections also provide an empowering and dynamic way for communities to work collaboratively with academic and heritage organisations.
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