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Physical meaning and habit is essential for learning what is and isn’t important within our own existence. We acquire this knowledge from the immediate things around us, but more often than not, we stand to gain more from looking back to our ancestors. The way they lived, the mistakes they made, and the things they left behind inform us in a way that the present can’t. A relationship between humans and the physical world around us has always existed. At a base level, it determines the way we situate ourselves within our physical environment. There will always be a floor below us, and locations within our spaces that we choose for their suitability – a place to sit for instance.


Perhaps this is why it is so distressing when one of these anchors (in the form of a familiar piece of heritage, for instance, a monument) changes or disappears. Our need for these monuments is of course nothing new, 'A Phenomenology of Landscape' by Christopher Tilley addresses populations within the Neolithic period, explaining that ‘places themselves may be said to acquire a history, sedimented layers of meaning by virtue of the actions and events that take place in them. Personal biographies, social identities and a biography of place are intimately connected.’ (Tilley, 1994, p.27). This grounding in our identities happens through both our personal and collective history – whether this is the marks we make on our landscape or our ancestral lines. Looking back to the Neolithic again, [Ancestral] ‘monuments served to make permanent, anchor, fix and visually draw out for perception the connections between people and the land for the first time.’ (Tilley, 1994, p.202). Places usually viewed in passing became familiar, with the link between people and their surroundings growing stronger.



A river observed across the landscape would have been a point of interest – perhaps if it was known for its good supply of fish, or a rocky outcrop for its shelter, but for those who settled came the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with these features and eventually celebrate them.

Photo by Martin Sanchez (2017) on Unsplash.

So, our relationship with our physical world – in the past and present - is undoubtedly important. The most obvious part of this initially, is our interactions and harnessing of it to fulfil our needs. Another is the emotional, through links within our minds that associate ‘thing’ with ‘feeling’. But in most cases, it seems like the final puzzle piece for an anchored relationship with objects and places is ultimately ownership: the reassurance of having the exclusive authority to exert our own control. This extends to heritage and our relationship with it too, not just on a large scale, but also in the sense of personal artefacts, the lesser known and the everyday. In a short photographic essay: ‘People of the croft: visualising land, heritage and identity’ (by Iain James Robertson and David Webster) a set of images and interviews explores the stories of those involved with crofting agriculture in the Scottish Highlands. Speaking of the shift in general interest towards the more personal sides of heritage, Robertson and Webster state: ‘One of the most exciting recent trends in heritage studies has been the turn towards the exploration of heritages that are local, particular and mundane.’… ‘The home in this context is understood as minor-key marker and mnemonic, cutting across the grain of national identity master narratives.’ (Robertson, Webster, 2017, p.313). Knowledge and appreciation for our past doesn’t just have to emerge from what is already classified as ‘proper’ or ‘real’ heritage. It can be as simple as our own surroundings and the objects that reinforce our identity through everyday life.


Stone figure on a cemetery on Boa Island (Lough Erne) in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. 

Photo by Andreas Brunn on Unsplash.

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