Up Close and Personal: Feeling the Past at Urban Archaeological Sites

Tracy Ireland


In this article I focus on the emotional, sensory and aesthetic affordances of urban archaeological remains conserved in situ and explore what these ruins ‘do’ in the context of the layered urban fabric of the city. I am concerned with a particular category of archaeological remains: those that illustrate the colonial history of settler nations, exploring examples in Sydney and Montreal. Using Sara Ahmed’s concept of ‘affective economies’ – where emotions work to stick things together and align individuals with communities – I tease out some of the distinctive aspects of this particular form of social/emotional/material entanglement, that appears to create stable objects of memory and identity from a much more contingent and complex matrix of politics, social structures, and the more-than-human materiality of the city. I argue that an understanding of the affective qualities of ruins and archaeological traces, and of how people feel heritage and the past through aesthetic and sensuous experiences of materiality, authenticity, locality and identity, bring us closer to understanding how heritage works. 


Urban archaeology; in situ conservation; affective economies; heritage; memory; identity; materiality

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/phrj.v23i0.5332