Memoirs of containment: the archivists are already at work

Mémoires du confinement: les archivistes déjà à l'œuvre

Grenoble | A “funny period”, “new”, or even “historic”: no French confronted with the epidemic of Covid-19, and the confinement no doubt. But what traces will remain? To build these memories, archives have launched without delay collection a little everywhere in France.

The idea has been launched by the departmental archives of the Vosges on the social networks. “At the same time with the municipal archives of Beaune, upon the 18th of march”, on the second day of the containment of the population, told AFP François Petrazoller.

“We have a role to play, one to keep the memory”, writes the chief of the archives of vosges, in recalling that his counterparts in paris were collected directly in the street of the testimony after the terrorist attacks of November 2015.

An unusual approach as most collections of documents are often long after the events.

“We wanted to launch the call immediately, because the memory is going fast. When there is a traumatic event, the people have quickly a prism and they don’t retain that very scary or very reassuring,” said archivist.

Thirty people from 15 to 80 years of age, “not necessarily accustomed to write,” have contributed very quickly to this initiative.

Seine-Maritime in the Mayenne, passing by Gard and Dawn, or in the cities of Lorient, Avignon and Saint-Etienne, the goal is to make it simple to put off anyone: writings (texts, drawings), but also photos, videos, can be sent by e-mail or by mail.

Generally, anxiety “is present” in these first testimonies, tells Mr. Petrazoller.

In Marseille, the Museum of civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCem) has launched a call for donations of everyday objects or manufactured, of the mask to the kitchen utensils, but also evidence of fear or isolation as these anonymous letters inviting carers to move.

“We want testimonials on the spot, the every-day life, with its routine, which gives the flesh compared to the official archives of the government”, abounds Caroline Wahl, archives of Isère.

“A living history”

At another time, “the diaries written by the young Madeleine or Paul during the first world war 1914-18, we can tell a story quite different from the history books. It is they who make History come alive”, is reminiscent of the Archives of Roubaix.

Among the first testimonies, a photo of a wall in Grenoble, where is written in red letters and childish “the containment is boring!”, a photomontage of an Easter egg hunt virtual, two poems from school children of 7 and 9 years old.

Families “linger sometimes on material contingencies, but essential, as the position of teleworking installed in the room of a child, the only place of the house for privacy while capturing correctly the wi-fi”, tell us the Archives of Lille, which deliver an extract of the emotion of a young father: “Thanks to the containment of misfortune, I see it open a little more each day the eyes of A.”

In the Yvelines, Babette Largo, artist-in-residence at the archives, trying to make with sending people a “soundtrack of the containment”, the noise of a computer keyboard to the cries of a young girl in her garden.

All of these materials, historian Annette Becker (University of Paris-Nanterre) would like to be added to “the dreams and delusions of madmen who tell of the things of our society”, but also the whole production “humorous” that circulates on social networks, or more prosaically “the letters of the average citizen who is facing the economic crisis, and who request a deferral to taxes.”

“Memory is social; we can’t remember all alone. We remember socially, and in the time”, recalls the specialist of the Great War, a period that saw the intimate archives.

For the historians of the future, the task will be difficult, as “the memory turns constantly, depending on what occurs every day.” If it “remains” the facts, “they will be told in a different way according to each person,” adds his colleague Arlette Farge, the Centre de recherches historiques (EHESS/CNRS).

For Ms. Farge, “the containment has affected the whole world but has increased inequality”. The post-containment and the “explosions social” that it sees to come “build the memory, too.”

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