A detail of the installation Crossing the Farther Shore, 2014 by Dinh Q. Lê, made up of found photographs, cotton thread, linen tape, and steel rods. In the Collection of National Gallery Singapore. Photograph: Tracy Ireland 2023

This installation is a woven together curtain of thousands of individual abandoned photographs found by the artist— a poignant glimpse of the everyday lives of Southern Vietnamese people in the pre-Vietnam War period.


Everyday Heritage: Existing approaches

Steve Brown, Tracy Ireland
30 January 2024


In our first Blog post, ‘What is Everyday Heritage?’, we conceptualised everyday heritage as ordinary, mundane, and/or quotidian practices (e.g., family history, gardening, daily life) that can be investigated via our engagement with archives, places, practices, collections, and communities. That is, approaches that can be used by professionals, communities, and individuals to explore the culture of everyday life in all its richness, wonder, and familiarity. What approaches can be applied in this endeavour? Fortunately, there are many existing approaches in the fields of heritage, history, and beyond that can help, and it is unnecessary to reinvent the wheel. In this blog-post, we identify just a few of these approaches.

There are a number of general resources available on good practices in heritage conservation – for example, Good practice guidance by the UK Heritage Fund, and the Australia ICOMOS Practice Notes series. While neither of these is explicit with regard to methodologies for understanding everyday life at heritage places, many of the approaches, methods, and tools can be applied in such endeavours.

Family history or genealogy research is a pastime in which many people participate. For example, a study by Western Sydney University in 2015 found that 57% of Australians surveyed identified family history as one of the genres of heritage that interested them most. Genealogy research is a field in which the everyday life is central to family stories, even if sleuths seek to uncover the extraordinary or unusual in their family lineage. There is an enormous amount of available guidance for undertaking family history research and the methods that can be applied. The information sources can include: family knowledge and archives; indexes to births, deaths, and marriages; passenger lists; convict records; electoral rolls; newspapers and magazines (e.g., via Trove); and online platforms such as Ancestry). Many institutions, such as the National Library of Australia and National Archives of Australia, and organisations (Society of Australian Genealogists; Oral History Australia), provide excellent guidance on undertaking family history research.

A feature of the Everyday Heritage project is our collaboration with historian and hacker Tim Sherratt’s GLAM workbench. This is a collection of tools, tutorials, examples, and hacks to help you work with data from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Tim will soon post an entry specifically about the GLAM workbench in this blog series.

As well as the digitised archives of daily newspapers available through Trove, photography and film are key sources for everyday heritage, partly because they often provide informal, unscripted glimpses of everyday life. On the other hand, much film and photography was formal, choreographed, and purposeful – which also reveals much about historical context. Many projects and platforms have brought together online collections and provide ways to access diverse collections of film and images. Everyday Heritage researcher Jane Lydon has worked with collections of photographs of Australian Aboriginal people for many years, including a project called Returning Photos: Australian Aboriginal Photographs from European Collections. Note that current cultural protocols recommend that requests by non-Indigenous researchers to use or reproduce such images should be accompanied by evidence of permission from the relevant Aboriginal community.

‘Social value’ is a core part of heritage practice. Social value is about the meanings, memories, and emotions that connect people with a place, practice, object, or collection – including everyday items with personal and shared meanings. Social value requires understanding people’s sense of identity, belonging, and attachment (at individual, family, and community levels) and the roles they play in everyday life and social practices.

Research Fellow Elizabeth Robson, with colleagues from Stirling University, Scotland, has developed a Social Value Toolkit to help guide heritage practitioners to understand the social values associated with the historic environment. The toolkit provides practical guidance and case studies, based on the implementation of methods in real world contexts. The toolkit advices that: (1) the choice of methods will depend on what you want to find out or are seeking to understand; (2) different methods can reveal different understandings of relationships to place and identity; and (3) using multiple methods in combination helps build-up understanding of the range of practices and values related to places and collections, as well as reveal diverse stories and sentiments. The website provides useful tips on approaches, methods, and assessment.

In the edited volume People-Centred Methodologies for Heritage Conservation: Exploring Emotional Attachments to Historic Urban Places (2021), the editors, Rebecca Madgin and James Lesh, argue for a shift to a more nuanced understanding of people’s relations to historic places by situating emotional attachments at the core of urban heritage thinking and practice’. Through a series of case study chapters, the book provides a diversity of methods that foreground emotion in people’s experiences of identity and place-attachment, and that, in turn, can uncover the practices of everyday life across different urban environments. The chapters emphasise qualitative methodologies such as interviews, focus groups, surveys, and digital data that are relevant to understanding the everyday experiences of places – whether designated as heritage or not.

The application of ‘participatory methods’ is not confined to the field of heritage conservation and is a widely used, cross-disciplinary approach. For example, the work by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, UK, is applied in the field of international development. Under the umbrella of participatory methods, IDS has explored and developed a multitude of strategies and methods that citizen groups use to strengthen their participation in the decisions that affect their everyday lives. The IDS Participatory Methods website provides a set of Key Principles of Participatory Learning and Action, as well as examples of Useful methods and ideas. Many of the methods are aimed at understanding everyday life in order to enable local people to play an active and influential part in decisions that affect their lives.


Key points:

  • Approaches to understanding everyday heritage are about ‘how’ you will work – i.e., how rapid and how participatory.
  • Aim for the highest degree of collaboration and be prepared to invest time in identifying and building relationships with individuals and communities.
  • A multi-methods approach is recommended to reveal diverse stories and multiple experiences of the everyday.
  • Ethical practice is necessary for undertaking approaches underpinning the just, effective, and inclusive management of everyday heritage.

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