On Keeping a Scrapbook

"Fran's Scrapbook"

Susan Tucker, Katherine Oh, Patricia Buckler, The Scrapbook in American Life:

Why scrapbook? To hold on, to narrate, to select and edit self, to construct identity, cultural moment, family history. To witness and to honor. It becomes “hidden history,” unofficial history.

To collect, document, write: becomes “an act against the fluidity, chaos, and  dissembled nature of life.” There’s a “comfort” in holding on, documenting, pasting in, and sometimes sharing the scrapbook.

p. 13  Scrapbooks are like Artists’ Books: physical and sensual. Reading a Scrapbook activates the same emotions enjoyed in experiencing art. Parallels with sewing a quit from scraps; the act of composition; the creation of a mosaic.

In the personal is the universal. “In the detail IS the empire.”

Recasting the Culture of Ephemera: Young Women’s Literary Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, Dissertation by Todd Steven Gernes, 1992, Brown University PhD, American Civilization:

p. iv. – v.        Looks at Ephemera as part of Social and Intellectual Life: Clipped, preserved, assembled in Commonplace Books, Scrapbooks, Friendship Albums

Collected artifacts = “associative and allusive”; can be seen as “material culture,” a “literary genre,” and “folk custom”

p. 30   Greater general literacy came about in 19th century with proliferation of Normal Schools [where Grammy trained to be a teacher] and the “penny press,” which produced “printed scraps” of knowledge

p.33   Method of Self-Cultivation before higher education was open to women: Women’s Commonplace Books:

Example: 1800 Commonplace Book of Alice Denham, Newport, R.I.: Printed scraps, hymns, poems, prose (religious, didactic, and elegiac)

p. 40   Commonplace Books decreased in 19th century; replaced by Scrapbook: Engravings, colorful cut-outs, news clippings. Layers = “bricolage” (art of assemblage)

p. 43  Scrapbooks = more private and expressive than Commonplace Books

p. 44: Scrapbook keeping was “a multilayered articulation of individual sentiment, a visually expressive form of storytelling and autobiography.”

Kate Eichorn, “Reading the Recipe Box: Archives, Memory, and Embroidered Knowledge” Women in the Archives Conference, Brown University, March 6, 2009:

A scrapbook is miscellany, ephemera, autobiography, and art.

A scrapbook is a collection of knowledge about the practices of everyday life: habits, family traditions

Mary Moody Emerson (Ralph’s aunt): “It is my home; it’s my only image of having existed.”

Text and artifact. See as genre of writing, not just instruction. Subgenre of Lifewriting. Testimony of existence. Hybrid. Collecting and ordering of lifewriting archive.

Shows the reader: What it means to be a mother and wife.

Janet Theophano, Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote:

“One constant in all these cookbooks is their mission. Beyond merely teaching cooking skills, they teach social expectations, either explicitly or implicitly. Many early books have suggestions on how to treat one’s husband or children, for example.”

Ephemeral, sensory, and archival: the conditions of production matter.

Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind, by Douwe Draaisma:

Shows how the material tools that people in each historical epoch used to help them remember became metaphors for human memory.  For Plato, memory was a wax tablet; for St. Augustine, a storehouse; for Freud, a “mystic writing pad”; for modern psychologists, a photograph, then a phonograph, then the cinema, a telephone exchange, and finally a computer.

Jessica Helfand, Scrapbooks: An American History:

-Flexible medium; reflects eras.

-Ahead of its time: “the original open-source technology, a unique form of self-expression that celebrated visual sampling, culture mixing, and the appropriation and redistribution of existing media.”

-Individual and specific, so that each becomes a “repository of evidence” from someone’s life.

-Men as well as women kept scrapbooks in the 19th and 20th centuries

-“They are messy. They are not chronological, and they go back and forth and change things…”

-“There’s something so humanizing and humbling about realizing, it’s now and then. It’s us. It’s part of some greater human need to mark what you were doing.”

-“biographical receptacles of people’s lives”

-“the banal things could be the most important thing.”

Leigh Ina Hunt, Victorian Passion to Modern Phenomenon: A Literary and Rhetorical Analysis of Two Hundred years of Scrapbooks and Scrapbook Making:

Three kinds of Scrapbooks through history:

1)   Collectibles: Theme Based (eg. The Civil War; Movie Stars)

2)   Biographical: (Self, Family, Friends: Photos and Mementos)

3)   Applied: Purpose of Working Out Practical Problems [“Fran’s Scrapbook”]

“Like paper-based scrapbooks, e-scrapbooks preserve the internal rhetoric of families, their history, and culture.”


National Endowment for the Humanities’ “My History” Project for Families:


Digital Scrapbooking Magazine:



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