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From our Archivist

How do you remember the past? Our Records Manager, Rachel Vaughan, shares how photos, records and archives work to preserve memory.
Rachel Vaughan, Records Manager
Rachel Vaughan, Records Manager

Next week, 7-11 June, marks International Archives Week, providing an opportunity to appreciate the rich collection of records and artefacts held by the Loreto Normanhurst Archives.

From these records, we are able to get a better glimpse at those who came before us and the lives they lived during their time here at Loreto. Last year, our girls learnt about how the School responded to a previous pandemic – the Spanish flu – in 1919. To coincide with the commemoration of Anzac Day, we discovered what home-front conditions were experienced by the Sisters and students during the Second World War. Most recently, we explored our long-history upholding social justice and the development of Loreto Day – a much-beloved, annual tradition.

But most of us are not privileged enough to have an archive of our own. So how do you remember the past?

If someone were to ask you what did on your 16th birthday, how much would you be able to recall? Would you try to look for a photograph or an old diary for details? Perhaps ask a friend that might have been with you? Looking forward, how will you describe what life was like in 2020 to someone in 15 years’ time?

We habitually remember a selection of ‘life highlights’; like a carefully curated Instagram feed, we ratify the major milestones, times with family, births and weddings, travels. You may be able to recall major events like the Sydney Olympics, news of the September 11 attacks or the moon landing. It is the mundane or the painful experiences that we tend to omit (and subsequently forget) when it comes to share.1 We also adopt memories from others, until their experiences and ours start to merge.

There is a tremendous reliance on photography to do our remembering for us. The incredible ease of taking and storing photographs on our phones means we over-capture and sometimes, over-share. With cameras at our fingertips, we often fail to consolidate our experiences into detailed memories. “As soon as you hit ‘click’ on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory,” writes psychologist Linda Henkel.2

Often it is our possessions that serve as touchstones and trigger memories. You may have a box of old papers, treasures in a cabinet or heirlooms passed down from grandparents. We imbue our belongings with meaning, allowing them to transport ourselves into the past. Our Archive is often fortunate to receive donated belongings – treasured items that have reminded alumnae of their school years and are imparted with stories to be shared with generations of Normo girls.

Whilst our memories are biased and susceptible to change over time, archival evidence remains constant.3 But memories capture our personalized, lived experiences, and add vibrancy to the records that exist. To enrich the items we have in the Archives Collection, we are eager to continue collecting, preserving and sharing the stories of our students and staff across the 124 years of Loreto Normanhurst’s history.

We all have stories to tell. As the Loreto Normanhurst Archives continues to safeguard the experiences of our school community, reflect on how you are preserving your own. This weekend, why not chat with an old friend, write your stories down or add details to your favourite photos; your future self, as well as your loved ones, will thank you for it.

Ms Rachel Vaughan

Records Manager


  1. Liberman, V., Boehm, J., Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L. (2009). Happiness and Memory: Affective Significance of Endowment and Contrast. Emotion, 9(5), 666-680.
  2. National Public Radio. (2014, May 22). Overexposed? Camera Phones Could Be Washing Out Our Memories. Retrieved from National Public Radio:
  3. Brown, C. (2013). Memory, identity and the archival paradigm: introduction to the special issue. Archival Science, 13, 85-93.

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