Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

12

Biography of a medal: people and the things they value

JODY JOY


INTRODUCTION

The archaeology of twentieth-century conflict can seem very impersonal and detached, often involving the assessment of battlefields or military installations on the basis of standard criteria. By contrast, this chapter is very personal and highlights the significance of a single object - my grandfather's Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) medal (Fig. 12.1) - to me, my grandfather and other members of my family. Although the medal is one of over 20 000 DFCs awarded in the Second World War (Litherland and Simpkin 1990:54) it is important to my family and to me because of its strong association with the life of my grandfather. By charting the biography of the medal this chapter will recount how the medal has become a vehicle for remembrance and reminiscence and how it has become so firmly tied to the life and experiences of my grandfather during the Second World War.

This chapter also explores in more general terms the relationships that exist between objects and people, the divisions that now exist between them having been identified as a recent phenomenon and a product of Western thought (Appadurai 1986; Tilley 1989). In many non-Western societies people know exactly where an object has come from and who has made it, and an object derives much of its value and significance from these associations. Using the personal example of my grandfather's DFC, I will use this chapter to argue that the distinction between people and objects within our own society is not as clear-cut as we like to imagine, if we draw a distinction between the 'object' and the 'thing'. According to Martin Heidegger (1971) things are closer to us than objects. A thing exists at a particular place and time, within a particular set of relationships: a thing has come from somewhere; someone has made it - it is made of something. A thing makes sense to us because of the network of relationships of which it is a part.

This chapter then is concerned with how the lives of objects in Western societies can become tied to those of people when they become socially constituted as 'things'; how 'things' can act to store meanings and associations; how they operate to consolidate social relationships in particular ways; and how these relationships

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