Collections and Research
The Shared Emotions project: Plumbing the emotional depths of archives
Anyone who takes the time to delve into archives quickly discovers how full of life they are as witnesses to marriages, births, deaths, successes, failures and other vagaries of the human condition. Even the driest documents at times lay bare intimate bits of information about the lives—sometimes tumultuous, sometimes uneventful—of those who came before us.
I was fortunate enough to discover the McCord Museum’s Archives collection in 2018 during an archival internship. Reflecting the mission of the Museum itself, this collection was developed with a strong emphasis on the social and cultural aspects of life in Montreal. Collected with this in mind, archival family fonds have, over time, become some of the collection’s most treasured assets. Often full of personal writings (correspondence, diaries, travel notebooks, scrapbooks), these archives open a window to the private worlds of the characters populating the pages.
As a researcher, I was already fascinated by the history of emotions. Long neglected by historians, this essential dimension of human existence has been generating a great deal of interest since the early 2000s. It joins other fields of historical research working to document the evolution of a community’s values, interests, behaviours and practices.
Marked by this experience, I had an opportunity during my internship to share my enthusiasm for exploring the Museum’s archives from this perspective with Céline Widmer. As the Curator, Archives, at the time, she created the Shared Emotions project to combine this new way of looking at documents with the opportunity to showcase this evocative aspect of the collection. Several months later, I had the pleasure of joining the Museum’s team to work on the project with the new Curator, Mathieu Lapointe, the Curatorial Assistant at the time, Eugénie Marcil, and the incredible interns Philippe-Olivier Boulay Scott, Annie Bilodeau, Julie Swartenbroeckx and Brielle McAndrew.
This archival description initiative builds on the digitization projects carried out by the Museum over the past few years to make its collection more accessible to researchers and the general public.
To share the pleasures of discovering these captivating, emotionally engaging archives with a broader public, we have begun publishing a series of articles on various topics associated with the project. In addition to feelings and emotions, these themes also address physical sensations, attitudes, values and ideologies. So far, we have explored the wonder experienced by Montrealers visiting Paris at the turn of the 20th century, the joys and agonies of late-19th century courtship, and changing social attitudes about food.
Follow us on social media to hear about upcoming publications and visit the project page to learn even more about this initiative and read the articles already published.
Patricia Prost, Curatorial Assistant, Archives and Documentary Art