Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories Exhibition

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CHAT Exhibition 2015, (left:) poster display, and (right:) interactive multimedia digital display (©PSP / KJarrett 2015)

Last autumn (31st October – 1st November 2015) I provided an exhibition for the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference (at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, my Alma Mater). Since then I’ve been writing up this work, and investigating the sources further (which is an ongoing process).

The exhibition – ‘Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories’ – was presented in two parts: a poster display, which basically outlined what PSP does, and an interactive multimedia digital display, which introduced topics of study and preliminary findings. I hope to make the latter available online soon; the former is now available here. The Abstract for the exhibition is as follows.

Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories: Abstract

The ‘Past Sense’ Project (PSP) brings together contemporary and historical archaeology, and psychotherapy, to consider the significance of material culture within contexts of domestic and sexual abuse, past and present. PSP will pilot a range of approaches to explore how collaborative community encounters with historic landscapes and buildings, artefacts, and other historical sources might enhance the process of identity (re-)construction and trauma management, for survivors of childhood and adulthood violence and abuse.

Methods include experimental auto- and co-archaeologies that integrate personal narratives and reflections within analyses of data obtained from archaeological surface- and building surveys, and auto-archive material. This will involve considering the (re)construction of meanings for material culture in relation to memory and identity, through studies of artefact biographies, and attending to the production and appropriation of transitional objects, through autobiographical studies.

We will also test the incorporation of recording, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological and other historical material (including written evidence, oral histories, photography, and artistic images) from earlier periods (particularly the 19th – mid 20th centuries) within community work – potentially involving creative elements (such as storytelling and artwork). In doing so, we will explore how engagement with material relating to domestic life in the more distant past (where appropriate, integrating historical material relating to domestic and sexual violence) might enable traumatised individuals and groups to confront experiences of violence in the more recent past.

By examining diachronically continuous and changing abusive practices, and socio-political responses to abuse, we aim to foster recognition of dominant ideologies, and the practical, detrimental, effects of structural gender inequality. Emphasising acts of resistance to violence in and around the home, we endeavour to highlight personal and collective achievements that might reinforce and augment both a sense of self, and of community, for survivors of abuse.





Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse: Towards a Heritage of Resistance

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Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse: Towards a Heritage of Resistance

(Trigger warning: please be aware that, although this post does not discuss acts of abuse and violence in detail, it does discuss sexual and other forms of abuse in general.)


This post follows on from the previous post, ‘Putting up a fight’: a culture of resistance to Domestic and Sexual Abuse, which argued that community archaeological studies might effectively explore material histories of resistance.[i] It noted that, though not intending to focus in detail upon abusive and violent practices, the Past Sense Project (PSP) might examine the implication of material culture within abusive and violent acts. This would be in order to explore how victims might, as acts of resistance, and in (re-)constructing a sense of self (and perhaps community), subvert such objects, and appropriate other material towards this aim. The previous post discussed acts of resistance to domestic and sexual abuse, and notions of community for victims and survivors, and briefly considered how individuals and communities might use historical studies into domestic and sexual abuse. This post will take this topic further, by considering how archaeological studies might be used in developing a Heritage of Resistance as a resource for victim and survivor communities.

Communities of resistance: a heritage

Historical research on domestic and sexual violence (briefly mentioned in the previous post) highlights the range of written evidence (including, but not limited to, diaries, letters, memoirs and autobiographies; newspaper, police, and court reports; and popular culture, such as ballads) that contains both information of abusive and resistant practices, and (on occasion) the voices of victims and perpetrators.[ii] Other sources, such as oral histories, photographs, and illustrations, combine with written evidence to relate and represent these experiences, and the contexts within which they took place.[iii]

In examining the different ways by which victims act in opposition to violence and abuse, their (albeit restricted) agency becomes apparent; both victims and survivors may find recognition of their strength in abusive situations a reservoir from which their sense of self, and that of other victims and survivors, and of community, might be nourished.[iv]

The collection of historical material that relates responses to violence and abuse may therefore provide victims and survivors – as individuals, or as (a) community/ies – with a heritage that might both inform and enhance, and be informed and enhanced by, acts of resistance in the more recent past, or present. By examining the material traces of resistance, PSP aims to contribute towards this heritage, highlighting tangible sources with which victims and survivors might engage.

Archaeologies of resistance

Numerous archaeological studies have investigated the material culture of resistance to oppression and inequality, in a range of contexts, and at different times in the past. This includes, for example, studies of the Roman colonisation of Britain in the 1st centuries BC to AD, and Early Medieval migrant settlements of Britain in the 5th – 11th centuries; and the colonisation of Africa, America, Australia and India in the 17th – 20th centuries.[v] During my own studies of the Iron Age to Roman, and late Roman to early medieval, transitions, I found certain methodological and theoretical frameworks useful in examining the use of material culture within processes of domination, and resistance.[vi] In common with other research into relationships between culture and power (particularly interrelationships between social, political, and economic, change and continuity, and material culture), my work employed anthropological and sociological approaches, specifically practice theories,[vii] and ideas developed through colonial and post-colonial studies.[viii] I have also recently begun contemporary archaeology research, employing experimental and innovative approaches, for example co- and auto-archaeologies, and archaeological ethnographies.

I am considering how I might integrate these methodological and theoretical approaches within archaeological research into the material histories of violence in the home, alongside my colleague’s therapeutic approaches, in testing several strands of research and community work. Some of the methods and approaches that we are currently exploring might require much modification, or prove untenable during pilots; but if able to overcome the practical difficulties, and (most importantly) satisfactorily meet the ethical challenges inherent within this work, we may be able to facilitate a range of positive outcomes for victims, survivors, and support services. As well as contributing to historical knowledge, participants in community work might learn or refresh transferable skills (which might include e.g. IT and social media, geography, sociology, psychology, anthropology, maths, photography, technical drawing, art, art and design history, writing, research and analysis) that may enable career and personal development, and perhaps increase confidence, as might the integration of psychotherapeutic approaches.

Co- and auto-archaeologies

I have begun to explore co- and auto-archaeological methodologies (see my recent conference paper*), and found some benefit of this approaches – particularly in recognising the value of personal archives within the reflective process, whereby survivors of violence in the home might use material culture in managing trauma, and in strengthening a sense of self after abuse. However, this work has not yet surmounted the challenge of maintaining a balance between privacy (and self-protection), and disseminating information that may be of use to either (or both) survivor communities, and public and academic audiences, a problem that affects the implementation of archaeological methodologies.

Institutional Building Surveys

Another possible area of PSP fieldwork (if supported by the relevant agencies and their clients) is collaborative landscape studies, building, and surface artefact surveys, of (either former or current) domestic violence refuges, and possibly children’s homes, and local environments. This might involve examining the phases during which buildings were converted for communal use; earlier phases of occupation (i.e. as the homes of nuclear families); and possibly even surface artefact surveys of contemporary communal contexts, whereby current residents conduct co- and auto-archaeologies to investigate the ‘archaeology of us’.

Studies of earlier family use might to some degree ‘root’ communal buildings within the local landscape, possibly engendering a sense of belonging. A paper (‘Independent researcher Making and re-making home in response to domestic violence’, by Janet Bowstead) at the recent In attending the recent ‘Homes Under Pressure’ conference demonstrated the success of similar approaches,  in outlining work with refuge residents that involved photographic exploration of refuge environs, as a form of expression.[ix]

Study of conversion phases may also provide sense of continuity, through which temporary residents might situate themselves in relationship to the movement that through campaign, protest, and innovation, reformed political and social responses to, and understanding of, domestic and sexual violence and abuse. Such studies might also be used to familiarise those in need of support of the available services, and to raise public awareness of the continuing need for the support of services that, though essential, are increasingly under threat. Highlighting the positive action of individuals and groups might also reduce stigma for some.

‘Healing Histories’ workshops

Perhaps the most promising approach at present (having hit upon methods that might integrate both of our skills and experience most effectively, and met prospective interest from a possible agency partner) is the development of therapeutic archaeology workshops for survivors of domestic and / or sexual violence and abuse. Plans are underway to develop workshops (working title: ‘Healing Histories’) that examine material culture (including landscapes, buildings and interiors, household objects, and clothing from excavations and other contextual archives) alongside other historical sources, to compare past and present experiences of and through domestic material culture, the home environment, and neighbourhood. Workshops will involve learning about archaeological techniques, analysis and interpretation, and will explore creative presentation and expression, possibly integrating ‘archaeological storytelling’, film and photography, textiles, and other material culture

Another paper (‘What makes a home? Engaging and documenting young people’s personal experiences on being homeless and what home means to them’, by Rachel Crofts) at the recent ‘Homes Under Pressure’ conference outlined workshops carried out at the Geffrye Museum, which worked with young people through the New Horizon Youth Centre. This resulted in the production of a small exhibition (‘Home and hope: Young people’s experiences of homelessness today’) that ran alongside the ‘Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London’ exhibition, and demonstrated the successful implementation of similar approaches to those proposed by PSP (i.e. using historical sources to explore modern day experiences). Although PSP aims, objectives, methods and approaches in many ways differ, it was very useful to see how such projects might be managed, as well as positive participant response and outcome.

A previous collaborative archaeological study (which investigated contexts associated with contemporary homeless communities in Bristol and York) has considered the therapeutic benefits of archaeological work. Again, PSP approaches differ (although there is some crossover); but such work demonstrates the benefits of collaboration for community participants (both therapeutically, and in learning new skills), as well as for historians and archaeologists (in learning from community participants), and provides opportunities to raise awareness of, and increasing information on, pressing issues, thus potentially being of wider social benefit.


Through community and public archaeological work, we might support personal, community, and social development, using the concept of resistance to emphasize the achievements of victims and survivors of violence and abuse, and associated campaigns and services. By exploring the prospect of ‘resistance heritage’, we might both assist in the (re-)construction of personal and community identities, while also enhancing understanding raising awareness among the public of both the experiences, and needs, of victims and survivors, at a time when more support is needed, yet funding is increasingly cut.


[i] See, e.g. James C. Scott 1985 Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of peasant resistance, and 1992 Domination and the arts of resistance: hidden transcripts, for discussions of resistance.

[ii] The body of work is large; see the endnotes of the previous post for a short bibliography

[iii] PSP will use local and regional (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire) memoirs (such as Elsie Elizabeth Goodhead 1983, The West End Story: Derby During the Depression, a Social and Personal History) and oral history (from local studies and other archives, e.g. East Midlands Oral History Archive, and we hope other collections, such as National Trust, e.g. Southwell Workhouse). Also photographic collections (including museum archives, such as Picture the Past, and private collections, such as that of the Derby Heritage Forum, and Derek Palmer – with thanks to both Derek and the DHF for allowing access).

[iv] The concepts of resistance and agency of course differ with regard to adult and children victims of abuse, as reflected within legislation, which defines the limited capabilities of minors regarding responsibility and consent. As well as differential social and emotional development in childhood, reliance upon and control by family and other authority figures, and the social and emotional bonds of family, will surely constrain both the conception of and capacity for resistance. It is most likely that when working with survivors of childhood abuse, PSP will collaborate with adults, rather than children.

[v] For Roman and Early Medieval Britain see J. C. Barrett, 1997 ‘Romanization: a critical comment’, in D. J. Mattingly (ed.) Dialogues in Roman imperialism , pp. 51-64; B. Bartel, 1980 ‘Colonialism and cultural responses: problems related to Roman provincial analysis’, World Archaeology 12:1 (Jun.), pp. 11-26; Christopher R. Bowles 2007 Rebuilding the Britons. The postcolonial archaeology of culture and identity in the late antique Bristol Channel region; David J. Mattingly 2006 An imperial possession: Britain in the Roman Empire, 54 B.C. – A.D. 409; K. Jarrett 2010  Ethnic, Social, and Cultural Identity in Roman to Post-Roman Southwest Britain, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield; P. Van Dommelen, 1997 ‘Colonial constructs: colonialism and archaeology in the Mediterranean’, World Archaeology 28:3 (Feb.), pp. 305-323; Jane Webster 1994 ‘The just war: Graeco-Roman texts as colonial discourse’, S. Cottam, D. Dungworth, S. Scott and J. Taylor (eds.) TRAC 94: proceedings of the fourth annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference Oxford, pp. 1-10; Jane Webster 1995 ‘’Interpretatio’: Roman word power and the Celtic Gods’, Britannia 26, pp. 153-161, Jane Webster 1997 ‘A negotiated syncretism: readings on the development of Romano-Celtic religion’, in D. J. Mattingly (ed.) Dialogues in Roman imperialism, pp. 164-184; Jane Webster 1997 ‘Necessary comparisons: a post-colonial approach to religious syncretism in the Roman provinces’, World Archaeology 28:3, pp. 324-338; Jane Webster, 2001 ‘Creolizing the Roman provinces’, American Journal of Archaeology 105:2 (Apr.), pp.209-225; Jane Webster and Nick Cooper (eds.) 1996 Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives. For regional studies, for example, Leroy Vail (ed.) 1989 The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa [Accessed 10.04.15]; Honeychurch, L. 1997 ‘Crossroads in the Caribbean: a site of encounter and exchange on Dominica’, World Archaeology 28:3 (Feb.), pp. 291-304; Homi Bhabha 1984 ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’, in October, Vol. 28 (Spring), pp. 125-133. Interesting post-colonial studies of material culture include Wendy Knepper 2006 ‘Colonization, Creolization, and Globalization: The Art and Ruses of Bricolage’, Small Axe 21 (October) pp. 70–86; and Peers, L. 1999 ‘Many tender ties: the shifting contexts and meanings of the S BLACK Bag’, World Archaeology 31:2, (Oct.), pp. 288-302.

[vi] See K. Jarrett 2009 ‘Cives and Saxones: the expression of Ethnicity in southwest Britain in the Early Middle Ages’, in Lorna Bleach, Katariina Närä, Sian Prosser and Paola Scarpini (eds.) In Search of the Medieval Voice: Expressions of Identity in the Middle Ages, pp. 180-200; 2010, op. cit..

[vii] For practice theories see Bourdieu; Pierre Bourdieu, 1972 Outline of a Theory of Practice; Michel de Certeau 1984, The Practice of Everyday Life; and Anthony Giddens, 1979 Central Problems in Social Theory. Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis, and 1984, The Constitution of Society.

[viii] For colonial and post-colonial studies see, for example, Ania Loomba, 1998 Colonialism / postcolonialism; Edward W. Said 1993, Culture and Imperialism; see also Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds.) 1994, Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory. A Reader; an archaeological perspective is provided by Chris Gosden 2004, Archaeology and Colonialism.

[ix] For details of the conference paper, see the programme, here.