Everyday Heritage: Surveying the field

Sharpay Qiong Wu, Steve Brown, Tracy Ireland
05 March 2024

Instagram post from 5 September 2023 shows the University of Canberra booth at the GA2023 Heritage Exposition – with hula hoops, PhD researcher Sharpay Qiong Wu, an iPad used by survey respondents, and the red UK phonebooth.

At the ICOMOS 21st General Assembly and Scientific Symposium (GA2023), the University of Canberra provided a display booth as part of the 5-day Heritage Exposition (5-9 September 2023, International Convention Centre Sydney). Beside showcasing the university’s work and study opportunities – and promoting the creative art of hula hooping – we invited GA2023 delegates (there were 1,800 from 83 countries) and visitors to complete a survey on ‘everyday heritage’. We wanted to understand what heritage practitioners consider everyday heritage to encompass, as well as how it might be acknowledged and remembered – if at all.

We invited visitors to the booth to complete a 3-question survey using an iPad to enter their responses – in the privacy of a red UK phonebooth. The survey was anonymous and no personal information was collected. University of Canberra staff at the booth assisted respondents as required.

There were 40 respondents. Survey data was analysed using thematic analysis – a qualitative method one of us (SQW) applied to the small dataset. Despite the small sample size, the survey provided diverse responses regarding understandings of everyday heritage, its importance, and connection with memory. In what follows, we provide an overview of the responses to each of the 3 questions asked, and our observations concerning them.

Word Cloud generated from this survey

Q1. What does ‘everyday heritage’ mean to you?

For most respondents, everyday heritage is the things and activities encountered in day-to-day life and typically relate to an individual, family, or place. For example, “objects or events that are experienced regularly – such as bedtime stories, clothing or jewellery, household items”, and “music, food, and dancing, plus dog breeds”. Some of the themes that emerged from the survey include,

  • Intergenerational memory. For example, “anything old worth keeping… to show our descendants”; and “the memories that my family and [those close to us] keep sharing, and do our best to keep… alive”.
  • Feelings or sentiments, such as “the feeling of being in an environment bearing the memory of my previous years. Touching surfaces that bring me back to my childhood”.
  • Generational change, especially pre- and post-digital era. For example, “things I did and remember as a kid, that [are] now uncommon”.
  • Identity. For example, “the small moments of my routine that create sense of identity”, and “things which we would like to do which [are] connected with memories and that creates identity”.
  • “recognising, connecting, acknowledging the ordinariness, mundane, or quotidian value, meanings of self, place, community”, and valued heritage that is “too ordinary to say out loud… but that we value and remember.”

 

Q2. What is an example of an everyday heritage object, place, or activity that is important to you? Why?

Many of the responses to these questions refer to objects and places with family connections. For example,

  • Family stories give “me a sense of where I have come from, how far we have grown and changed”.
  • “For most of my life I used [notes and coins] everyday, and money left in pockets and wallets from overseas trips is a reminder of those trips – a trigger to remember who went where and why and with whom. Family histories of holidays, personal histories of adventures, histories of a developing career”.
  • “…making Thai sticky rice to the recipe that my Thai grandmother taught me when I was a kid; peeling mangoes the way she taught me”.

Some of the short responses relating to everyday activities included: “doing morning and evening ritual, which is a part of religious heritage”; “the interaction between people and Country”; and “Polish dance class”.

 

Q3. How should everyday heritage be acknowledged and remembered?

One response questioned the ability to manage everyday heritage – “in reality, [everyday heritage] is ephemeral and too individualistic outside of some recorded memoir or reference in a letter or some other textual record.” However, most respondents suggested ways to acknowledge and manage everyday heritage. For example,

  • Collecting and documenting photographic collections.
  • Oral testimony and video recordings (e.g., for stories and cultural events).
  • Through publications (e.g., books, digital methods including social media).
  • Inclusion in museum collections and exhibitions.
  • Conservation of everyday heirloom objects, buildings, and landscapes.
  • “carefully studying personal perceptions – these are unique and easy to underestimate”.
  • “emphasising it’s everyday relevance and its sustainable values”.

One respondent emphasised the need for more work on ‘grassroots heritage’: “look to the grass roots cultural heritage; studies to be made by non-privileged & educated architects who seek to commemorate their own kind rather than popular culture and its social significances. These are the items that need to be interpreted and promoted as ‘real’ heritage.”

 

Findings

The responses to the Everyday Heritage survey were diverse and thoughtful. It is clear from the survey that everyday heritage is typically concerned with objects, places, stories, history, and memory at personal and family levels. We suggest that this concern can apply to both unofficial heritage as well as be an important component of most registered heritage items. The survey also suggests that everyday heritage is characterised by often powerful emotional attachment and personal connection. There was generally a strong desire by survey respondents that everyday heritage be acknowledged, and there were multiple ways in which this can be achieved – through traditional practices (e.g., oral transmission and collecting) as well as a plethora of digital methods.

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