Objects as Pegs for Memory

  • Elisabeth van Houts
Part of the Explorations in Medieval Culture and Society book series (MECUSO)


In the previous chapters we have occasionally signalled how memories of persons and places are linked with objects and sites. Objects such as jewellery, sacred vessels or cloths were passed on from one generation to the next and carried with them stories of their donors. That material evidence helps to trigger memories has been shown conclusively in anthropological studies of primarily oral cultures in modern times. The use of photographs, especially, has been found to be enormously effective in helping to recall the (recent) past.1 In the Middle Ages the use of pictures and objects to recall past events, and stories in general, was well known and advocated by the clergy as a means of teaching the illiterate.2 Today we have to rely on written references to ways in which medieval people were reminded of the past by looking at sites and objects. Few of the actual sites and objects which are mentioned in the sources have survived. Of the surviving material evidence, only objects from ecclesiastical institutions remain because churches and monasteries had archives and treasuries built in which to keep their heirlooms for ever. Very few objects from a secular background have survived, however, because family possessions if not stored in institutions, got dispersed and lost. Buildings and sites were more durable and they, like objects, had stories of their founders or later events attached to them.


Family Possession Twelfth Century Original Owner Golden Ring Memorial Tradition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© E. M. C. van Houts 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabeth van Houts
    • 1
  1. 1.Emmanuel CollegeUniversity of CambridgeUK

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