During my studies for an MA in Historical Archaeology I realised, not very originally, that each of us is defined partially by the material culture we gather around us during our lives, what I came, in my subsequent PhD research, to call "object worlds".. I wrote about the way that people in the recent past displayed their status, tastes and other aspects of their personalities on their mantelpieces, shelves and dressers. Stripped of materiality, despite the anti-consumerist leanings of many over the last few centuries, we are reduced to anonimity, which of course is why taking away someone's possessions can be used as punishment, why robbery, even without violence, is seen as psychological wounding, and why those faiths that teach positive non-materialism stress a lack of self.
I began to look at my own collection of material culture, and realised that I was surrounded by things none of which are intrinsically valuable, but which I regard as an external manifestation of me.
Every life is a story made up of chapters, some of which might be unhappy but hopefully some (most?) of which will be filled with adventure, activity, fun, fulfillment, challenges overcome, joys, notable events, and much else. Perhaps to ourselves, our lives might seem mundane and prosaic when compared to those of the celebrities and elites, but my aim here is to suggest that everyone's lives are full of interest and value, and that these can result in the acquisition of things that tell interesting and valuable stories.
It might seem big-headed or self-important to create a museum of one's own life, yet surely those who imply that our individual material traces are less important than those of elites or those of other cultures or other times are the ones who are displaying arrogance, snobbery or whatever. If I believe in "digging where I stand" I have to include my own material culture because it reflects, archaeologically, not only the events of my life but also my tastes (doubtful though they might be), my interests, my personality and so on.
The lives of "ordinary" people are important. Archaeologists, historians and therefore the general public, have often undervalued the material cultures of the comman man and woman. Partly this is deliberate - a people in awe of elites and rulers is a subdued one. If every one of us realised our importance we would be far more demanding. That's why, I think, "History is Dangerous" in Lindqvist's words, not to us but to those who wish to rule or oppress us. It may also be why we are encouraged to focus not on yesterday but on a distant, misty past that is easier to dismiss or romanticise.
Anyway, this is my museum. As a welcome visitor you can make of it what you will. It will expand as I add more artefacts and as my life continues along its path(s)!
A life in material culture
This is a continuing project, added to at varying intervals, that attempts to present a series of objects that reflect and represent my life (so far). It is arranged in chronological order, beginning 70 years ago in the year of my birth. I'm trying to share the importance of seemingly prosaic material culture in our understanding of the recent past, with the aim of applying what I learn to the histories of other lives.
- Gallery 1: The early years
- A peripetitic childhood; England, Aden, Australia
Last updated: 1st April 2022
These are some of the areas my museum celebrates:
Privies and chamber pots
Doors and windows
I have always been fascinated by miniaturisation and miniatures. Eventually this resulted in an MA dissertation — The Historical Archaeology and Miniatures — and more recently a PhD thesis — Objects of Delight.
Lost and Found
In 2014 I took part in a project to examine the concepts of lost and found in art, photography and archaeology. The end results were an exhibition and a publication.
I occasionally pick up photographs in junk shops that catch my eye simply because they are filled with unknowns — anonymous people, mysterious events, unknown places. They might have been taken long ago with primitive box cameras with slow shutter speeds and blurry lenses, but nevertheless I can archaeologically "excavate" them to discover the stories, however fragmentary, they can tell.
Leeds Industrial Museum
My last job before leaving England was to research the collectgion of industrial railway wagons at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mills.
But before that I had photographed the museum, and Thwaites Mill further down the River Aire.
Nottingham Industrial Museum
I volunteered for a few years, until moving to Leeds, at Nottingham Industrial Musem. Here are a few photographic memories of that experience.
The museum has a collection of glass negatives, most of which record the manufacture of lace making machines. I volunteered to scan these, and this is a little of what I found.