Salvage rites: making memory on a Montana homestead

DeSilvey, Caitlin O'Brian (2005). Salvage rites: making memory on a Montana homestead. PhD thesis The Open University.



The preservation of selected sites and artefacts privileges certain forms of cultural memory. Other material cultures, no longer useful and deemed unworthy of preservation, accumulate in overlooked places. Abandoned in a state of unfinished disposal, these objects and structures can generate unpredictable and unruly effects. Such degraded materialities may trigger apprehensions of cultural memory in a mode unfamiliar to the museum or the heritage park. This study takes up the residual material culture of a homestead in Western Montana to explore how history and memory are made, and remade, through interactions between people and things. Theories of performativity and intersubjectivity inform a move away from a broadly representational or semiotic understanding of material culture. In this study, experimental methodologies access the different ways in which material engagements animate the potential effects of a given artefact. One approach explores the potential for inclusive, artful inventory practice. Another engages in a process of associative storytelling which assembles disparate objects in constellations of meaning. A third approach observes the way in which sensory or haptic memory arises out of embodied action and practical reclamation. Finally, the thesis considers the nature of cultural memory and the processes of decay that obscure certain residues of knowledge even as they expose others. In conclusion, the thesis considers the social and political implications of such non-essentialist encounters with memory and materiality. The thesis argues that these active, creative encounters with objects open up the possibility for an ethical relation to the past-a salvage both of cultural artefacts and of overlooked histories.

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