In Loving Memory? Domestic violence and Archaeologies of Death and Burial

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One of the ways that I am endeavouring to develop archaeological studies of domestic violence is to examine the grave memorials of women murdered by their husbands; of men who murdered their wives; and of men murdered by their wives, in the 17th – early 20th centuries. For the time being, I’m concentrating upon Derbyshire burials (as this area forms the primary geographical focus for PSP work), although I will expand into the East Midlands region, and probably beyond to Adderbury (Oxfordshire), Ancaster (Lincolnshire), and perhaps London and Bristol.[i]

The main aim of this exercise is to consider whether, and if so, how, the memorials (or other aspects of burial, such as placement of grave within burial grounds) of victims and perpetrators of homicide in the home may have differed as a group to those of men and women who died of ‘natural causes’. Where possible (as when studying other aspects of violence in the home for PSP), I’ll use the range of historical and archaeological sources together to investigate the social and cultural backgrounds of those involved.

Although I’ve only just begun this research, and will need to analyse a substantial number of cases before even tentative conclusions might be made, some interesting patterns of behaviour that might shed light on attitudes to violence are evident. I began by trawling the press for reports of ‘wife murder’ within the PSP study areas (beginning with Derbyshire), and by consulting court records. Before embarking on this task, I anticipated that I would encounter perpetrators of this crime through reports of their imprisonment and capital punishment. And, as for much of the 19th century the county gaol (like other large prisons) incorporated a graveyard within which its felons were buried after their death, I expected that few murderers would have been buried within community graveyards.[ii]

Locations of burial grounds that might be examined through PSP (Google Earth)

However, in the cases that I have so far found reported within local and regional newspapers, a high proportion of husbands committed suicide either immediately after murdering their wives, or when imprisoned. The sample is at this stage small, confined to a particular period (as I work my way through the archives), and of course this combination of crimes may have attracted greater attention in the press, in seeking to appeal to a readership greedy for sensational and macabre incidents. But, these initial examples suggest that it may be profitable to explore the frequency, and temporal and spatial extent, of such a practice, and to consider how it might relate to broader attitudes regarding power and shame, religious belief, and to the ways in which gender was structured.

After discovering murder cases within the newspapers, I use the census and BMD data to find out more about those involved, so that I might determine when and where perpetrators and victims may be buried. Where possible, I’ll examine existing graveyard plans and surveys to see whereabouts within burial grounds their graves might be, and any information on gravestones or other markers – the most efficient approach. But while I’m arranging to access such information (which may take a while), I’m visiting the various graveyards that might be of significance to these cases. (As part of other research, I often visit graveyards to consider burial and memorial practices, so at this stage merely keep my eyes open for the graves of any individuals associated with each case, such as family members, employers, etc.: I’ve uploaded photos of the ongoing graveyard ‘reccies’ I’ve been doing for other research on Flickr, here.)

The drawback is that most of the murders recorded in the press are by and of lower status individuals, the graves of many of which, for much of the period, were not commonly marked by memorials.[iii] But finding gravestones of other family members (of comparable economic standing) may provoke interesting questions regarding memory, family and community, and violent death. I’ll provide an overview of these field-trips, and of other information I might discover, as and when possible, here (tagged ‘Death and Burial’).



[i] Although these locations are (due to financial constraints) determined more by family ties, than the systematic selection of sites for comparison outside the study area, their spread is fortuitous, enabling contrasts to be made between urban and rural, coastal and interior, large and small villages, towns, and cities, and agricultural and industrial local economies.

[ii] Derby County Gaol was located on South Street, facing the end of Vernon Street (both off Friar Gate); I have written a little about the prison on another blog, not only due to my interests in crime and punishment (see ‘Death Comes to Pemberley: Crime and Punishment in 19th Century Derby’), but because it was (and still is) an important site with regard to my family (and own) history (see ‘Researching Communities of Crime and Punishment in 19th – early 20th century Derby’ ).

The situation differed before the 1832 Anatomy Act, which transferred the supply of cadavers for dissection by anatomy schools, hospitals, surgeons, and artists from the remains of murderers punished by hanging for their crime, to those who died within workhouses, and whose relatives either did or could not claim their remains  and pay for their burial (see e.g. Ruth Richardson 1988 Death, Dissection and the Destitute; Louise Fowler & Natasha Powers (eds.) 2012 Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection).

[iii] See  e.g. Ruth Richardson 1987 Death, Dissection and the DestituteSarah Tarlow 1999 Bereavement and commemoration: an archaeology of mortality; Julian Litten 2002 The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral Since 1450Julie-Marie Strange 2005 Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914.



Getting up close and personal: a case study of domestic violence in late Victorian Derby (work in progress)

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Things have been quiet here for the last few weeks – but I’ve not been twiddling my thumbs!

I’ve been trawling the archives to look closely into the lives of a family in late Victorian Derby, headed by George Henry Millington, and his wife Edna (nee Moss), whose court case in April 1883 not only hit local and regional newspapers, but was also reported as far afield as Portsmouth.

The local daily newspaper reports on the day of the court hearing (the other accounts will be presented in subsequent posts):

“Godliness not cleanliness.” George Henry Millington, cab driver, Angel Yard, Burton Road, was summoned for assaulting his wife, Edna, on the 26th inst. The complainant stated that the defendant came home and asked her where she had been. She replied that she had visited her mother, whereupon he took her by the throat, and struck and kicked her out of the house. In answer to the Bench the complainant stated that she and her husband were always quarrelling. He did not like her go in to the meetings of the Salvation Army. She did not stay out until eleven o’clock at night. The defendant said that since his wife had commenced to “go with the Salvation Army, she had neglected the children and the house”. The rooms were quite filthy, and it was on that account that a quarrel arose. The Mayor ‒ If she goes with the Salvation Army, she ought to have remembered that cleanliness is next to godliness”. The Mayor said the Bench did not consider there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant, and therefore dismissed the charge. He had evidently received great provocation from his wife, who had certainly neglected to keep her children and the house tidy and clean, than which nothing could be more provoking to a man. He hoped that the exposure in that court would have the effect of making the wife more careful, and leading a better life.

I intend to present my findings (which include information on their eldest two children, Fredrick William, and George Henry – whose exploits also ended in court, and resulted in their ‘transportation’ to an Industrial school near Bristol; and on the Salvation Army in Derby at this time) in various places, as soon as I’ve exhausted the lines of inquiry to which I have access (which with the reopening of the Local Studies Library today, after closure for a year, will hopefully expand), and have condensed the dozens of pages of information that I’ve accrued into a more manageable narrative.

I became interested in this family as their experiences raise a number of issues of relevance to this project; and because the more I looked, the more historical evidence I found that shone a light upon interrelationships between social structures and cultural frameworks, and violence in the home. I feel that by integrating their story within workshops that explore ways for traumatised survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to use history therapeutically, this case study may enable individuals to reconsider their own experiences as part of a stream of collective encounters that are, to a large extent, influenced by forces situated outside the person (though that evidently affect the ways that people together and alone think and behave toward one another).

This purview may help survivors to deconstruct the victim-blaming strategies so often adopted by abusive partners (and frequently endorsed by others, including those in and with authority). It may also demonstrate to victims and survivors that they are not alone, but are part of a community that is not only represented by those present in person today. In undertaking this research, I have been struck by the ‘connections’ that might be felt between the long-suffering, long-deceased, and those who today continue to experience abuse, and are trying to find ways to manage the trauma left in its wake. Although the material and cultural environments that determine and frame the everyday lives of past and present women of course differ profoundly (and are liable to influence behaviour and attitudes – including emotional response – as is the psychological makeup of the individual), many experiential similarities are evident. In exploring the lives of past victims, I have been moved to give recognition to their experiences – particularly those who appear not to have received justice (who, as today, may have had their injuries compounded through the very mechanisms supposed to protect and assist them: police, courts, families, neighbours, and other putative support networks).

By telling their stories – making visible the hitherto hidden and forgotten pains of the past – we might bring about some degree of restitution for both the dead, and the living. This is not about ‘shaming’ either victims, or those who committed acts of brutality, who cannot defend their actions – for, as is evident within the archives, the accused are commonly given voice within newspaper reports of court hearings, and (as in this case) their actions advocated through the pervading ideologies of the day that permitted the physical ‘correction’ of women by their husbands for not fulfilling their “proper” (expected) ‘duties’ of housekeeper, child-carer, and subservient, attentive, wife. And, by examining the sources, we are able to recognise the ‘conditioning’ of men to their ‘rights’ over women, and so understand the cultural contexts that permitted violent acts (though this exercise certainly does not excuse such behaviour, as it is also apparent from many accounts of family life that violence was not ‘necessary’ to maintain a well-ordered home environment).

Instead, I shall tell these stories so that we might better appreciate our own parts in the complex intersections of society and culture that enable violence to take place with impunity – and to consider ways that we might (singly and together) constrain abuse (which, considering the numerous social and economic effects of violence in the home, will benefit those who have not directly encountered violence in the home, as well as those who have: for the monetary cost of domestic abuse, see the NICE 2014 Costing Statement; for more information on the economic effects of domestic abuse, see the findings of the British Crime Survey). These stories show that – as today – the ’causes’ (catalysts is perhaps a better term) and effects of violence in the home went beyond putative ‘faults’ of the individual, and disfunctionality of the family, neighbourhood, or other communities (which in this case involve gender, class, and religion); and that by studying these stories in depth – conducting ‘microhistories‘ – we might better understand the social problems that give rise to, and derive from, domestic abuse, and might elucidate the practical impact of political and economic structures upon everyday behaviour and beliefs. It is for these reasons, and for the benefits to individuals and families in the present that might come from giving voice to the powerless in the past, that I foreground the personal through such case studies.

As I conduct this research independently (i.e. without funding or institutional support – though supported by PSP co-director Debra), and due to data protection issues, there is a limit to where my investigations might take me in tracing the descendants of this family, and contacting them directly. I therefore send out an appeal to them (or anyone who may know them to pass on this inquiry), to contact me with any further information they may have relating to their ancestors. I also ask for them to pardon my bringing to light episodes of their ancestors’ lives that some might wish to forget or conceal; in return, I hope that they may find at least some of the information that I have uncovered of interest, and if carrying out family history, that there is something of use among the sources that I have collated (which, though within the public domain, might be more easily accessible to me than them, due to my location).

Some of the places that feature in the case study
Some of the places that feature in the case study (@Google Earth / PSP) – click on image for a larger version

I am fortunate in my ‘placement’ (which also provoked my interest in this particular case): my proximity to (currently within walking distance), and familiarity with, the landscape in which this case takes place enables me to consider the effects of surrounding upon the experiences of this family (despite the demolition of most of the housing encountered through this case, on the whole the contours, alignments of roads, and spatial relationships, remain, as do some of the more prominent buildings, and I am fortunate in having access to a large private collection of local historic photographs, to which I refer while exploring the sites mentioned in newspaper reports). My familiarity is a part of my own family history: the area in which Edna Moss and George Henry Millington lived before they married was home to my family for at least seven generations (including myself and my son) – my own grandmother was even born in the street housing the Millington parental home in the 1870s. I therefore hope that some of the information I present might give colour in other ways to those investigating Millington and Moss family histories – I intend to create a picture of their home environments through studies of maps, housing, and material culture, informed by discoveries made during recent archaeological excavations.

Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived at the time of their first court case (1883)
Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived (in the court behind the building – the Angel Inn – seen at the tip of the church tower, centre) at the time of their first court case (1883), Briton From Above, from here – click on image for a larger version

While I continue to research and write up my studies of this case, readers may see a provisional family tree of the two families here (PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, AND LIKELY TO CONTAIN ERRORS! This is particularly so for the extended family: some branches of the tree are recorded in order to determine – and possibly eliminate – potential distant relationships.)

Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s
Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s (@PSP / Find My Past) – click on image for larger version

In attempting to extend public engagement with this study beyond the existing opportunities (e.g. the local talks and workshops I intend to develop; blog; Twitter and Facebook; the academic and popular publications that I am in the process of developing), I am contemplating developing ‘profiles’ for the couple involved in this case using social media, so that anyone so inclined might engage in (an imaginative!) dialogue with them, in order to ask general questions about daily life, or more specific questions relating to experiences of violence. So please get involved with this story if you would like to know more, or feel you have something to contribute.

‘Doing the right thing’? Histories of the Home and Domestic Violence: Homes Under Pressure Conference Paper

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Artefacts from refuge assemblage ©PSP

‘Doing the right thing’? Histories of the Home and Domestic Violence[i]

Histories of Home Subject Specialist Network, 7th annual conference, Homes Under Pressure

Dr Kirsten Jarrett, Past Sense Project


This paper introduces research carried out as part of a project I co-direct,[ii] called ‘Past Sense’ (or PSP), through which my colleague and I explore the material histories of violence in the home, bringing together archaeological and psychotherapeutic research. We analyse evidence from the early modern period to the present day, although current fieldwork predominantly examines the contemporary past. However, we are only at the very beginning of what is experimental research; this presentation is therefore of early work in progress, and preliminary thoughts. Our subject is a very sensitive one; although I will not describe acts of violence or abuse in detail, I will discuss abusive contexts and associated material culture. To begin, I will provide a recent definition of domestic violence.

What is meant by Domestic Violence and Abuse?

Home Office Definition, 2013:[iii]

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Domestic Violence can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Financial

The perception of abuse and violence in the home is of course contingent on historical and cultural conditions; however, the different aspects of abuse shown here have often been incorporated within allegations of cruelty in the past.[iv] We must also remain aware of the prevalence of abuse, and shed stereotypes that situate domestic violence solely within underprivileged or poorly educated homes. We cannot assume distance between our work, and its reception by traumatised individuals: it’s essential that scholars consider carefully how they discuss violence in the past, especially with regard to recent decades, and recognise the potentially damaging effects of studies upon often vulnerable individuals and groups, as well as prospective benefits.

Contemporary Archaeology

PSP works within the conceptual frameworks and methodologies of Contemporary Archaeology, which though facing different practical and ethical challenges to traditional archaeologies, often employs established methods. Awareness of the prospective social benefits and adverse affects of archaeological research in this field has encouraged the development of collaborative community and public work. This has in part influenced the adoption of diverse approaches, providing scope for creativity that might allow the generation of more ‘meaningful’ histories for marginalised individuals and groups, for example, integrating ethnographies, narratives, storytelling, and art.

A previous study that explores marginality also raises the subject of domestic violence. It illustrates possible methodologies; but also brings to light important issues regarding the potential effects of contemporary historical work. I will quickly consider this work, which might provide a springboard for future archaeological work on violence in the home; discussion will focus on issues that subsequent studies might consider. (With regard to the following study, we must remember that approaches to data privacy have changes since the excavation.)

Previous Studies: ‘The archaeology of alienation’

Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas carried out the ‘excavation’ (in July 1997) of a recently abandoned 2-bedroom, 1960s council house. They published the results in 2001 as a chapter within Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past, entitled ‘The archaeology of alienation. A late twentieth-century British council house’.[v] In part, I discuss this work in response to the authors’ intent for their study:

exploring the theme of alienation from the dual perspective of the material culture of a marginalised and socially disenfranchised person or family in the late twentieth century and the process of marginalisation and alienation that we, as archaeologists, effect on the people we study” [my emphasis].

The study adopted standard archaeological recording and sampling techniques, plotting artefacts on room plans and photographing finds in situ, which are categorised according to function, age, and gender. The remains are interpreted as representing a household comprising a single mother and her two children; and an adult male (in a sexual relationship with the woman, and perhaps the children’s father), who stayed over-night, but did not co-habit – the methadone bottle in the bathroom suggesting his attempt to overcome heroin addiction. Domestic material, apparently abandoned, was variously in disarray, and boxed (seemingly ready for removal), to the authors indicative of rapid flight; the man’s addiction is tentatively suggested as the reason for relationship breakdown. This conclusion follows discussion of housing difficulties for single mothers and their children who flee situations of domestic violence, inferring explanation for abandonment of the site.

For the purpose of this paper, I shall very briefly consider the description and exhibition of personal possessions, which I suggest that subsequent studies, if recognising potentially abusive situations, should approach with especial care. I would argue that in such cases, it is important that we neither assume that apparent abandonment renders material devoid of meaning (for various factors constrain choice regarding which material is taken and left), nor that such acts are necessarily seen as permanent. Connected to this issue is the sensitivity we must apply in both the questions we ask of the material, and the way we ask them.

Using this study to highlight how subsequent studies might analyse and disseminate data, I shall consider the seemingly innocuous question, “Who lived there?” (posed as a bold section heading in the chapter). I wonder whether questions of this sort – typical of archaeological studies of household environments – might be modified if exploring potentially abusive situations: might it seem intrusive to the victim of violence, placing them as subject of academic surveillance, or as an object of voyeurism?

This brings me to examination of intimate possessions. The chapter records how the presence “erotic underwear” and a “lovers’ guide video” suggests a sexual relationship between the man and woman in this household. Bearing in mind the prospect of sexual abuse within situations of domestic violence (and the frequent humiliation of victims), I suggest that subsequent work might explore different ways to discuss material associated with sexual activity. Research should, at the very least, not compromise the dignity of victims and survivors, nor enhance a sense of vulnerability. This issue relates to how studies used photography. We turn to a photograph in the chapter (entitled “Abandoned bedroom floor”) that, in illustrating methods (the use of a grid in recording finds), also shows objects within this room. This might serve to raise the issue of re-traumatisation, which subsequent archaeological research should strive to avoid. To most, such images may appear harmless; however, subsequent studies might consider the potential detrimental effects of displaying possible sites of abuse (and perhaps violation). With regard to illustrating material relating to contexts where abuse is suspected, instead of using photographs (which might – or perhaps should – be used only with informed consent), other, less provocative techniques (such as line drawings) might be used. However, practical constraints are acknowledged (such as restricted time, and the limited capabilities of drawings).

So how might we go forward with research in this field? Of course, it may only rarely be possible to detect an abusive situation through material remains, although certain material traces may be informative. The concept of structured deposition – regularised, deliberate placement of a restricted range of artefacts suggesting ‘out of the ordinary’ behaviour – familiar to archaeologists of ritual, might be of use alongside an awareness of abusive technologies. Through this approach, we might recognise acts of concealment, for example.

However, I feel that collaborative work might provide the best solution, involving those experienced in comparable contextual conditions. To some, archaeological study in the presence of a subject perhaps seems superfluous; however, archaeological ethnographers are demonstrating the value of combining contemporary testimony with a wide range of sources. We are (or should be) well aware of the multi-vocality of material culture. And the voice of the archaeologist, and that of the subject, may merge and diverge at different points, wherein lie questions surrounding representation and understanding, among others. Collaborative, therapeutic archaeologies, with co- and auto-archaeological components (such as Rachael Kiddey’s recently completed doctoral research, that studied homelessness in the Contemporary Past, in Bristol and York), which have previously been carried out with success.[vi] I see scope in such approaches for PSP work.

Auto- and co-archaeologies[vii]

Auto-archaeologies have drawbacks, as well as advantages. They may enable experimentation, and the testing of boundaries, but might also risk compromising privacy. Progress may therefore be a slow, as the subject negotiates control of autobiographical material, while navigating ethical and legal issues.

With regard to histories of abuse, creation of an autobiographical narrative (that considers the significance of material culture before and after leaving) may be useful – before archaeological recording, and re-familiarisation with the personal archive. The subject must remain alert to tendencies to reconfigure memories according to present needs – that is, for certain experiences to come to the fore, while others may either be actively or subconsciously put aside; subsequent narratives might therefore differ in content and emphasis, to some extent. The subject must also remain aware that personal perceptions will be embroiled within (re-)negotiation(s) of social identities and relationships – past, present, and future. But, comparison of other sources with detailed contextual information and emotional responses (as provided through a narrative) may say much regarding the interplay of material and memories.

Material contained within personal archives might include photos, and written evidence, such as legal documents, letters, and diaries (informing interpretation of context). But these sources can be examined as artefacts to explore materiality and, as with other archaeological sources, spatial relationships. Standard archaeological methodologies may be adapted to work around the constraints of contemporary studies (particularly privacy, and material abundance), recording artefact household contexts; stratigraphic relationships within and between assemblages; and artefact details.

Landscape studies[viii]

Landscape has long been integral to archaeological studies, and archaeology is well equipped to explore diachronic change. I have therefore begun to think how I might integrate analysis of relationships between ‘place’ and memory, using geographical information provided by documents and other sources.

Domestic Violence refuges might hold a central position in restorative (i.e. post separation) landscapes. Though initially transitory (in providing temporary accommodation), they may be significant loci for the construction of social identities (such as re-categorisation as lone-parent family) and relationships (e.g. in (re-)establishing friendships and family), coming to be seen as historical sites.

The historical significance of the refuge building might be enacted through (a) virtual ‘return(s)’ to these sites using satellite technologies, each visit enabling the (re-)processing of experiences, as the life of the survivor changes in the present. For present and past residents, connected landscape features may be (re-)encountered on foot, perhaps in some cases to create landscape narratives, but also to explore the histories of refuge environs, in order to enhance a sense of place. Contemporary Archaeologists have previously adopted similar techniques, in attempting to understand the meaning of landscapes to marginalised individuals and groups; such methods may be of use in PSP community work.


I will conclude by saying that my colleague and I are aware that we face many challenges with this work. However, even the few weeks of preliminary research has begun to yield potential methodologies, and positive outcomes. Expanding digital technologies, providing remote access to a wide variety of resources, may enable vulnerable collaborators to participate in constructive and creative ways, while remaining in control, and in some cases, anonymous.

It may be possible to develop further a sense of ‘place’ through collaborative historical study of refuge environs and buildings (commonly housed in modified family homes). The more distant past might provide a less disturbing social ‘space’, in and through which collaborators might explore experiences of home, and renegotiate local and community identities. Recognition of similar experiences in the past might enable victims in realising that they are not to blame for their abuse: the role of patriarchal systems becomes evident, providing a potential to erode stigma. Shared experiences – in the recent and more decent past – might support the development of community, establishing a heritage of resistance to violence in the home. But we must always attend to the question posed in the title of this talk: are we doing the right thing? (A question also asked by many when leaving violent relationships.)

We intend to develop our research to include studies of childhood sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence. Through this work, we might not only learn more about the most hidden histories of home, but also do so in a way that might enable those with traumatic experiences to move forward from pain, of a kind that many find too disturbing to speak of, or listen to.[x]

Artefact from auto-archaeological archive
Artefact from auto-archaeological archive


[i] This version of the paper has been edited (to remove sensitive content and material subject to copyright restrictions; some of the sentences and paragraphs shown here were modified or removed during the presentation, in an attempt to reduce reading time).

[ii] For more information on the project co-directors, see ‘PSP: What, where, why, who, and how?’; and ‘The PSP ‘journey’: Exploring the Material History of Violence in the Home’.

[iii] Home Office (2013) Information for Local Areas on the change to the Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse.

[iv] See ‘The PSP journey so far on the paper trail: 19th – early 20th century Domestic Violence‘; and ‘Thoughts and questions: written sources on 19th – early 20th century domestic violence’.

[v] With thanks to Victor Buchli for providing permission to use his co-authored chapter.

[vi] For example, see ‘Leave Home Stay’, by Christine Finn, presented January 2014 at a Centre for the Studies of Home ‘Custodians of Home’ Conference, at the Geffrye Museum (when I gave a paper on another project with which I am involved: Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project). Christine Finn’s work ‘Leave Home Stay’ can be seen on her project website, here, and is discussed in an article in the Guardian ‘Old Junk or Treasure?’ here.

[vii] In the presentation, I introduced an experimental study in progress, which has been removed due to sensitive content. The following instead speaks in general terms about the prospect of integrating co- and auto-archaeologies within histories of domestic violence.

[viii] This section was omitted during the presentation, due to time constraints; again, sensitive information has been removed, and the discussion is in general terms.

[ix] Passages from the following section were omitted during the presentation, due to time constraints.

[x] For more information on the project, see the PSP website; Twitter (@P_S_Project); and Facebook page (Past Sense Project).