Beyond Scraps: Narrating Traumatic Health Experiences Through Scrapbooking
Reynolds, Dawn M
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For centuries, women have served as the primary storytellers of domestic life. In volumes known as scrapbooks, women collect family snapshots and memorabilia for generations to enjoy. Traditional scrapbooking tends to highlight cheerful familial themes, such as weddings, births, and other life milestones. Contemporary online iterations of the age-old artform have begun publicly incorporating stories of traumatic health experiences. In this dissertation, I attend to the scrapbooking projects created by a selection of women who address personal health issues. I examine narrative and rhetorical strategies employed in health trauma scrapbooks, contending that women use the craft to preserve a sense of self while also publicly voicing social concerns. I combine feminist textual analysis and ethnographic-inspired observation to illustrate how scrapbooking comprises a form of knowledge production narrating women's collective wisdom about survival. The scrapbook projects I explore demonstrate techniques crafters use to manage cultural memories by reformulating their self-image as social change activists rather than as mere enthusiasts engaging in a trite hobby. This dissertation explores a selection of health concerns women raise through the craft, with a particular emphasis on breast-cancer themed scrapbooks. Applying breast cancer scrapbook pages as a case study, I illustrate how women deploy online scrapbooking in the service of health narration, thereby claiming a public voice about the illness experience. As I show in the final part of the dissertation, scrapbookers coalesce in activist communities, carving out a platform from which to press for social justice. I conclude by revealing ways that scrapbookers utilize the World Wide Web to facilitate health activism and public narration of traumatic health experiences. This dissertation is designed to elevate the place of contemporary scrapbooking in American Studies scholarship. Because the scrapbook has been both poorly preserved and grossly understudied, the earnest task of my project is to offer a useful model for analyzing women's trauma scrapbook pages that resonates for future scholars. I seek, above all, to raise awareness about the scrapbook as a relevant cultural artifact that contains richly contextual narratives of self and society.