Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 289-305


Death, Memory and Collecting: Creating the Conditions for Ancestralisation in South London Households

  • Fiona ParrottAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Amsterdam Email author 

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This chapter presents case studies of the collections that played a part in peoples’ understanding and experience of death and bereavement, from an ethnographic study of households, loss and material culture in South London. The focus on death, memory and collecting serves to highlight the way events and relationships shape and rework collections in domestic settings. It parallels the study of museum collections in this volume by unpacking the shifting relationships between objects, individuals and families. Specifically, observations on the display of collections belonging to the dead, commemorative acquisitions for collections, and intergenerational collecting illustrate how transformations in the agency of individual collectors, and the agency of objects in the lives of those anticipating death or dealing with bereavement, unfold. Personhood, in these examples of collecting, is shaped by mnemonic connections between people and things, but these are shaped by ideas and institutions linking the individual, the family and nation, the house and the museum. Cultural practices of collecting involve many ways of locating the self in the collective and the collective in the self, indeed domestic collectors viewed the museum as a transcendent place for the immortalisation of collections and selves. The case studies deal in different ways with the potential contradictions of securing future remembrance but equally they reveal aspects of the complexity of small-scale, ‘private’ collecting, that bring the material and social life of museum collections conceptually ‘closer to home’.