The purpose of this paper is to provide language and meaning to open up silence around traumatic boarding school memories through the symbolic aura (Nora 1989) surrounding key memory objects. The secondary aim is to illustrate to historians the importance of paying attention to interviewees’ discussion of material objects as clues to uncovering deeper, unexplored memories.
The approach draws on Vamik Volkan’s (2006) understanding of “linking objects” – significant objects preserved or created by traumatised people. Traumatic emotions become linked with loss and grief associated with the object, turning it into a tightly packed symbol whose significance is “bound up in the conscious and unconscious nuances of the relationship that preceded the loss” (Volkan, 2006, p. 255). The experiences of the two authors are examined as exemplars in this process.
The exemplars illustrate how complicated and long term the process of remembering and understanding is for those who experience boarding school trauma and the power of “linking objects” to open up memory surrounding it. The case studies also alert educational historians to how emotionally fraught revealing what happened can be and how long it may take to confront the events.
Linking objects have not previously been used in relationship to surfacing boarding school trauma. The paper is also unique in offering deep analysis of boarding school trauma undertaken by skilled educational researchers who incorporate reflections from their own experience informed by broad theory and pertinent psychological research.
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