Most of our cultural heritage is a product of family inheritance. The letters, diaries, and account books that fill archives, the artworks displayed on gallery walls, and the objects curated in museums often exist only because a family thought them an important inheritance that should be maintained and ultimately placed in our national institutions. Yet, why people hold onto particular objects or intangible inheritances, like stories, while discarding others, and the reasons why they choose to relegate something to an attic, or retrieve it again, are topics that scholars are only beginning to grapple with.
This research network draws on new methodologies from the history and sociology of emotions to investigate how and why family inheritances from a range of social, racial, and ethnic groups maintain their cultural power as they move across generations and from the private to the public spheres. This AHRC-funded network is led by Professor Joanne Begiato, Oxford Brookes University, and Associate Professor Katie Barclay, University of Adelaide, and supported by a steering committee. It builds upon and extends an ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions research cluster on ‘emotions and family’. We are supported by the Local & Family History Centre, Leeds Central Library, and the State Library of South Australia. For more information about who is involved, please see Meet the Team.
New methodologies from the history and sociology of emotions that explore emotion as an analytical tool to explain and interpret behaviour offer fruitful approaches for understanding why some inheritances are sustained within families. This research network draws together scholars in history, sociology, literary studies, heritage, as well as family historians, to address the question of how and why family inheritances maintain their power, as they move across generations and from the private to the public spheres. This research is important because family inheritances – including those of intangible or low monetary value – are forms of economic, social and cultural capital that help shape outcomes for individuals and groups.
Understanding how and why these inheritances are transmitted helps us explain why social mobility is possible for some groups and not others, and why certain types of family knowledge resist change, while others are adapted to accommodate new information and to suit new environments. In exploring the relationship between familial attachments and national heritage, this research also contributes to decision-making around collections and display in the heritage sector, and the ways that family histories inform the production of national memory and identity.
During the network’s funded life (2019-2021), we are holding four workshops to explore these questions, as well as two ‘history harvests’. To find out more, please see our events page.