By Jazmine Aldrich
The Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC) Archives include several autograph books; these are typically small, bound books containing signatures, poems, proverbs, doodles, and other unique entries. Other names for these books include autograph albums, memory albums, and friendship albums. On the surface, this type of record may seem to hold very little historical value, but they can tell us a great deal about the individuals who kept them and their social connections.
Autograph books can be traced back to the sixteenth-century European tradition of the album amicorum (“album of friendship”). These albums were commonly kept by university students to recall their classmates, professors and other social contacts. The albums preserved lighthearted or heartfelt messages from social connections. In a world long before the Internet and social media, autograph books provided a means of documenting one’s network. For some, these books may also have served as a symbol of social status – a vast network, neatly kept in their pocket.
Typical entries in these books include the signatures of contacts whom individuals felt were worth remembering. Entries often include a sentiment along the lines of “remember me,” “think of me,” or “forget me not.” These notes are often accompanied by a date and a geographic location which can situate a social relationship in its historical context. They can help us to learn not only who lived in or frequented a particular area in a given time, but also, who they interacted with. These books give us glimpses into the social lives of their bearers.