Slovenski etnografski muzej

Številka revije 
Etnolog 12 (2002)
Mateja Habinc
Članek v pdf obliki 
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Spominski predmeti

The article first summarises a range of domestic and foreign authors in order to illustrate the variety of different names used to refer to objects which the author collectively calls "objects of memory". The article then considers some of their common properties and their use as aids and sources for research. The author indicates the possibility of treating objects of memory as objects, not merely as sources of a culture; in this connection she discusses the research of how the objects depend on and are connected with the way of living of the individuals who selected them and preserved them for memory. The article concludes with an attempt at placing such research in the field of the study of material culture which deals with the non-economic attributes of consumption.


Reading ethnological literature one comes across numerous records about what is kept "for memory`s sake". If we focus exclusively on the objects which individuals keeps at their homes, in their private environment, and which they preserve (solely or) mainly for the sake of memory, we are faced with the problem what to call these objects. The existing terminology refers to them as souvenirs (or mementoes) – a term used by the interviewees and in most of the literature related to tourism – as objects of memory, but also as memoarčki ("memorabilia"). The terminological issue is not limited to Slovene authors, but is also acknowledged by several foreign researchers, who draw attention to the difficulties in defining these objects, their multi-functional nature, and to their primary or perhaps even non-memorial use, as well as to the differentiation between (mass-) produced and (individually) chosen, materialised memories. In addition to the already mentioned term souvenirs, some refer to the objects, kept for memory`s sake, as relics, but the term "objects of memory" (or, rarely, "memory objects") is more common, The German term Erinnerungsgegenstände is translated by the author as objects of memory. But this expression does not mean exactly the same to everyone involved. The expression "objects of memory" is therefore not an accepted term; judging from the consulted literature it is a more general name for a group of items which have more or less the same properties, and different authors include different objects. Objects kept for memory`s sake; as museum objects and as non-material characteristics; the value of the meaning of a material object, which in one reality documents another reality, e.g. the past, reality, another space, etc.: all these aspects are found in everyday objects by some museum workers, while some authors make no special mention of them as separate groups, but classify them, for instance. as autobiographic, sentimental, or personal objects; or, in general, they hold them to be of particular significance because of the memories attached to them.
In her master`s thesis entitled Remembering the 20th century": an ethnological analysis of the preservation of personal memories in Slovenia, on which his article is based, the author proposes and encourages the use of the term "objects of memory" in spite of all the different names, which are a valuable source for establishing the attributes of objects of memory. By using the term "objects of memory" the association with "merely" tourist souvenirs can be avoided, because the term includes all the things preserved by individuals for memory`s sake, regardless how they were acquired. The author also holds that, taking into account the knowledge about objects as sources and simultaneously treating them as objects belonging to a culture, objects of memory (and not only these objects) cannot be understood merely as sources for the presentation of some other content, e.g. local history, life stories, or as media, mediators of something "beyond" the objects themselves. The consulted literature shows that this is common practice among Slovene as well as foreign researchers. However, if we are mainly interested in the attitude of people to objects of memory, in the stories how they acquired, preserved, and value them, then these objects must be understood integrally: they are both sources of and objects belonging to the culture that is researched (Rogan). The message conveyed by an object and the object itself are one and the same thing; therefore, objects cannot be treated merely as sources, e.g. of meaning, because they are inseparably connected with it. Furthermore, the quasi-social attitude of people to objects, which are supposed to be a kind of social mediators, because they are thought to broaden people`s action and to convey meanings among people, constitutes a reduction of the objects to mediators of meanings and to being aids (of a broader, additional) human activity. But this view fails to explain the role of (memorial) objects in the life of people, their (non-) use and function; and it also disregards the connections between the self-perception of individuals and the historical determination of these objects and practices. The author further assumes that objects kept for memory`s sake cannot be merely aids of people`s memory, social (or communication ) mediators, which broaden man`s action and mediate meanings between people. Indeed, one has to take into account which items are involved, from which period, and from which environment and, at the same time, what these things mean to people, how and why they chose them. She sees such research in the context of the shift which occurred in Slovene ethnology at least from the 1960s onwards – the shift from studying objects to the study of their "bearers", or in the framework of a functionalist observation of the cultural inventory. The author indeed holds that objects of memory (too) are studied or observed in particular through their multi-functional nature, and in the context of the non-economic attributes of consumption, respectively in a context in which the objects are used (e.g. after purchasing them), of practices, to which they have to be adapted (e.g. in households), and the consequences which this adaptation may mean for the context of use (thus, e.g. for households). It is indeed interesting to observe how a range of objects is included in the life of a certain social group and how these objects meet the required functions in a selected period of an individual`s life.