Objects of Memory as Keys to Family History

It is my pleasure to welcome you to SENSOMEMO’s blog. The purpose of this blog is to introduce the different parts of the SENSOMEMO project and illuminate some examples of meaningful objects and autobiographical materiality that we have discovered through our work.

In SENSOMEMO, we have developed a method that we call bookshelf ethnography. The bookshelf is a spatial metaphor that urges us to rethink relationships to personal assemblages of practical objects and mementoes. Bookshelf ethnography intends to raise questions with regards to safeguarding objects of memory; What kinds of objects have you kept?  Which ones of them are “on display” in your family room, Instagram account or zoom background image?  Through bookshelf ethnography, we explore how critical consumerism, sustainability, and digital technologies transform our relationship with materiality and objects.  

In the blog, we will feature posts by the members of our research team, as well as our collaborators, either in English, Finnish, or both.  We will start the blog with a series of texts by the members of the research team that tell about our personal objects of memory and about the research we have conducted.

During my PhD studies, I became interested in the embodied and sensory elements of memories, especially in the context of change, transformation, and the disappearance of working communities (Koskinen-Koivisto 2011). I wanted to study more about senses and embodiment but struggled to find theoretical and methodological tools for analyzing how sensory experiences and memories become part of life stories and storytelling. During my postdoctoral years, I became interested in the study of material culture and heritage, including the intertwining of materiality and memory (e.g. Koskinen-Koivisto & Thomas 2018). I learned that physical objects of memory do not even need to exist anymore, only be remembered and narrated, and yet they deeply affect us, shaping our identities and feelings of belonging.

The image accompanying this introductory text introduce an assemblage of objects relating to family history, which is one of the contexts our project will scrutinize. The objects in the picture are items I safeguarded from my Grandmother’s apartment when she moved into a nursing home.  They relate to the topic of my PhD thesis in which I studied the life narrative of my grandmother and her experiences of the transformations of Finnish society that she lived through (Koskinen-Koivisto 2014). My grandmother was born in a factory worker’s family. During her childhood, the factory owned most of the community and community dwellings.  My grandmother’s childhood home, along with most of the other homes in the area, were destroyed when the factory needed space for new industrial buildings.

The small porcelain polar bear is one of the very few items that I remember from my grandparent’s home in the factory community.  They lived in an old log house on the riverbank next to the factory grounds. This house symbolized my family’s journey of climbing up the ladder of social hierarchy and becoming middle-class.  In the 1930s, it belonged to the chief engineer of the factory, whose family needed a housemaid and ended up hiring my 12-year-old grandmother, a daughter from a factory worker’s large family, to help with cooking and cleaning. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, my grandparents moved into the same house after my grandfather educated himself and became a white-collar technician. My first childhood memories are from that house. I remember the taste and smell of the food that my grandmother cooked, how the wooden floor would bend and creak when my grandfather sat with me in a rocking chair in the family room and sang to me, and I see the bear figure above the fireplace. The polar bear figure with the photos of my grandmother and grandfather when they were young remind me of my roots in the factory community and make me think of all the possibilities of life.

I am happy that SENSOMEMO offers a chance to develop methods to grasp the intertwining of materiality, senses, and memory. I share my enthusiasm, fascination and curiosity in this project with three excellent researchers who I met during different phases of my research career. Next, I invite the members of the research team, Anna, Viktorija, and Kristiina, to share their stories of how they became researchers of everyday life materiality, senses and affectivity.


Koskinen-Koivisto, Eerika 2011: Disappearing Landscapes. Embodied Experience and Metaphoric Space in the Life Story of a Female Factory Worker. Ethnologia Scandinavica 41

Koskinen-Koivisto, Eerika 2014: Her Own Worth – Negotiation of Subjectivity in the Life Narrative of a Female Labourer. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society. https://oa.finlit.fi/site/books/10.21435/sfe.16/read/

Koskinen-Koivisto, Eerika 2018: Remembering and forgetting, discovering and cherishing. Engagements with material culture of war in Finnish Lapland. Ethnologia Fennica 45. doi:10.23991/ef.v45i0.60647