Beginning in 2014-15
I’m not sure exactly when the idea of this study matured in my mind. I began posting about my experiences as a young bird-watcher in the Facebook group Fältbiolog emeritus in the winter of 2014-15. The first announcement of my autobiographical intentions came at the end of Jun 2015, a month after I had left as director of the Medical Museion. “As Søren Kierkegaard said, life is lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards”, I wrote on my own FB timeline, and continued: “Having always, for decades, explored new intellectual vistas, I’ve rarely had time or interest in looking backwards. Now it seems to be time to change the priorities. Time to take stock before the next phase, whatever direction it will take. γνῶθι σεαυτόν (know thyself).”
“Are you drafting a memoir?, asked one of my history of science colleagues, Carsten Timmerman, and I answered: “Memoir sounds so boring. Autobiography is way too pretentious. I would rather call it a ‘spiritual exercise’ in the Augustinian confessional sense, based on my archive, my memories, and my library.”
From this moment forth, I was became increasingly involved in what soon developed into a full-time research enterprise, a ‘project‘. And accordingly, I changed my scholarly identity: from a professional museionist to an emeritus memoirist.
What I have done after June 2015
In the academic year 2015-16 I focused on revisiting my childhood and teenage years; I went through all archival material that I kept at home, mainly my grandfather’s diaries (more here); I also scanned hundreds of photos from my early life, and used much time trying to generate spontaneous memories from the age of 5-6 and onwards (more here). I also began to contact my former class fellows, all the way back to primary school, asking them to help me remember our school years.
Having collected all possible information I could get my hands on from the childhood and school years, I began to dig into my adult professional career, i.e., the 50 years from the mid 1960s to the mid 2010s. A few months before my formal retirement in November 2016 I moved all my professional papers — manuscripts, conference papers, lecture notes — from my office at Medical Museion into a small basement room in our house; having the material nearby made it much more easy to go through it chronologically. In the following year I browsed and took notes from the material up to the end of 1991.
In parallell with the archival work I read about memoir/autobiography writing and wrote reflections on Facebook, gradually widening the circle of friends and followers and soon realized that the platform provides a most useful virtual seminar for academic discussions and comments. Although I have presented the general ideas behind the study at a few academic seminars (see project outreach here), the major discussion platform so far has been Facebook.