Artefact as Archive

Artefact as Archive

A recent vein of creative historical research has reconsidered ‘the limits and location of any set of materials determined as “archive”’ (Lorimer 2009). Within this body of work, researchers have highlighted that material encounters and material entities can be rich resources for historical recovery (Kurtz 2001; Till 2001; DeSilvey 2006, 2007b; Featherstone 2004; Hill 2006a, 2006b, 2007; Lorimer 2006; Yusoff 2008).

In my own writing (Patchett 2008; Patchett and Foster 2008; Patchett 2012) I have argued that specimen artefacts can be used as object-based archives. When studied up close, craft-made objects begin to suggest the practices of their making:

The following photographs of a millinery ostrich plume show evidence of willowing:

Willowing’ consisted of lengthening the short strands, called flues, of inferior feathers by tying on one, two or three flues until the feather has the desired depth and grace.

A poem – The Plumes that Pay – from the Sorrowful Rhymes of Working Children 1911 underlines the exploitation of children employed in doing “finishing work” for feather manufacturers:

How doth the manufacturer

Improve the ostrich tail?

By willowing the scraggy ends

Until they’re fit for sale.

How cheerfully he sits and smiles

Throughout the livelong day,

While children knot the tiny flues

And make the plumes that pay.

For more on ‘willowing work ‘read

Elizabeth C. Watson ‘Homework in the Tenements‘  Survey 25 (4 February 1911), 772-781



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