Why do we feel the need to archive, store and protect objects? And how does the emotional connection to external, inanimate items affect how and where we store them?
Assigning emotions, beliefs and thoughts to ‘dead’ objects is a defining characteristic of humans. We are creatures who not only create objects and tools but collect them too.
New findings published by Mircosoft Research UK has explored the archiving practices of objects by families in the UK. Researchers, D. S. Kirk and A. Sellen talked to families who stored everything from ‘mundane [yet] deeply emotive items’ in attics in special boxes to valuable inherited items such as jewelry, paintings and ornaments.
The researchers realised that archiving is a way to give value to meaningful items. By storing and protecting photos, videos or childhood diaries we are ‘defining the self’ and are actually keeping a material record of who were/are.
Many of those items are on display in the home, ready to act as platforms or props for storytelling to guests. However the majority of the items are kept away in ‘deep storage’, only to be enjoyed or flicked through a few times a year in order to “honour” the item.
A concluding and touching observation remarked on how parents kept pictures and objects to help young children learn about family history and heritage. One family showed how they had used photos or objects that had belonged to deceased family members to help children “grow up somehow ‘knowing’ relatives that they had never actually met”. This really illustrates the power archives have in building shared family ties between members of a family.
Research paper: Kirk, D. S. and Sellen, A. (2010) On human remains: Values and practice in the home archiving of cherished objects