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Accepted Paper:

Place, family heritage and archives: genealogical geographies for people of Punjabi descent  


Chandan Mahal (Queen Mary University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how people of Punjabi descent have been using archives to explore ancestral place and family history, raising questions of how the colonial presence in specific collections has been formative to their pasts and present.

Paper long abstract:

Many cultural institutions are seeking to bring new understandings to the colonial legacies of collections they hold. However, many are often faced with challenges where many of the communities whose heritage is featured in these museums and archives feel physically, emotionally and intellectually disconnected from these collections. This paper will draw on research carried out with people of Punjabi descent who took part in workshops using collections from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) to explore questions of family heritage, ancestral place and genealogy. It will outline how they used the archives to confront and explore their personal histories and broader complex global histories. By opening up new ways of using and examining some of these public collections, the paper also discusses the ways in which people of Punjabi descent have constructed and interrogated their own family archives through oral histories, objects and heirlooms, alongside examples of public archives that have raised questions of how the colonial presence in some of these collections has been formative to their pasts of where their ancestors came from, to where they are located now.

Panel AM03a
Objects, archives and their stories: unsettling colonial certainties