Academic journal article Hecate

Matrilineal Narratives: Learning from Voices and Objects

Academic journal article Hecate

Matrilineal Narratives: Learning from Voices and Objects

Article excerpt

The matrilineal line is a precious connection although it is sometimes disrupted and marked by absence. In this paper we explore notions of generational connections and loss among women in our families. Three women scholars from a regional university, we are interested in the agency of objects, as discussed by Eva Domanska in 2005, and their role in feminist research. In particular we consider the entanglements between matrilineal voice and objects that produce possibilities for care and nurturing across generations. Through our conversations, we discovered that our grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' stories shared threads of similarity. We tell these stories through the collective biography of poems and prose leveraged from significant objects that highlight the "generational nurturing," researched by Nye. We disclose our attempts to reconstruct and reconnect with the women of our matrilineal lines across decades. We embed new layers in our retelling of old stories to our daughters and nieces.


It is not difficult to start a conversation about the objects of matrilineal nurture and care across generations of women. Invariably we find that most people have "a something" or even "a non-thing." It may be a photograph, an object, or a story. Or it might be a heart-felt absence that traces the connections and disconnections of the matrilineal line. Storied objects are often from the home: domestic tools, trinkets or "tat." They are not necessarily of any great monetary value; rather they are objects laden with personal imagery and the "fragrances" of the past. Historian Ludmilla Jordanova writes of what she calls the "perfumes" that inspire historians. Persistent and complex, these perfumes evoke emotional responses: "They infuse everything historians do" (Jordanova 34). Taking up this notion of the perfumes of history, we imagine the fragrances of matrilineal care and nurture to be found in the objects, stories and photographs we keep.

In searching through our own lives, our chattels and memories, we came to realise that the re-storying process can be transformative and energising. Accordingly, understandings of our own roles as keepers, speakers and creators of women's history become part of the story. The perfume of history reaches easily into the present and indicates a future. Our three stories are not necessarily idealised nor even happy. They are hard to tell, marked by loss, absence and wondering. Yet they are told in the spirit of matrilineal care and are newly marked by our authoring selves.


Researchers have long asked how we can touch or know the past through material objects and stories. Leora Auslander argues that objects can enrich thinking, given the "impoverished" qualities of the literary text (Auslander 4). The tangible nature of the object is cause for celebration. Don Ihde, for example, has suggested that objects "give voice where there has been silence and sight to that which was invisible" (qtd in Domanska 4). We imagine our objects, photographs and stories as being fragmented, temporal and located. In doing so, we preface our writing on matrilineal connections in three spheres: women's objects, women's time and women's places.

Keepers of objects

At a time when we face an online saturation of images and discourse, we return to a slow pace of tangible objects to touch the past in an attempt to hold the hands of our matrilineal ancestors. We embrace the narratives of care that they have embedded in the objects through their custodial process. As keepers ourselves, we appreciate the original intent of the storied objects and re-story them in turn. These attachments are multilayered and organic in that they are imbued with meaning by multiple generations. So too, we imagine our grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' lives and their relationship with the material world.

Australian feminist objects have been used to theorise women's lifeworlds. …

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