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Evoking memory of culture, people, and place

From 'collecting information' to 'curating re-collections'

Published onAug 31, 2020
Evoking memory of culture, people, and place

I’m working with the practice of noticing: noticing the sense of things as I go along; and noticing the arising of knowing—as it arises. My practice as a writer is exploring ways of making visible what we experience in those moments of knowing-arising.

In my new work at Scotland’s Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, I am seeking ways to preserve, record and strengthen Scottish Gaelic—a threatened language—through making visible the experienced and remembered connections between culture, people and place. Holding conversations in Gaelic as a learner requires the kind of focused attention which I do not usually give to my native tongue (English), and I am noticing how I reach moments of understanding through the memory of something that feels like the words being spoken.

One of my approaches is to notice what another writer’s work evokes in me, and to point to that in my writing, in such a way that it may in turn evoke in my reader their memory of something that ‘feels like’ the thing I’m writing about. My current practice is grounded in my ethnobotanical research, in which I focused on human-plant relationships within the context of traditional knowledge in south-western Zambia. Living there, I became particularly interested in how people came to know the plants and in how that knowledge was passed on within the community. Through the Research Fellowship programme, I have shifted the focus of my attention from reporting ‘facts from the field’ (like a collector of information), to noticing and writing about ways in which knowing and meaning arise.

These shifts of focus have allowed me to uncover a deeper question that has been running through my work as an ethnobotanist: how can I make visible the experience of coming-to-know, through the practice of evoking personal and collective memory?

 

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