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Old things, new thinking?

How do we know the value of an object?

I find I've been taking photos of old things recently. They've captured my imagination, making new thoughts. At least I think my thoughts are new, I certainly don't remember having had them before.

I don't know how old this iron is, but it presumably pre-dates domestic electricity. According to the Science Museum there was rapid increase of electric lighting in British homes early last century, "two-thirds by the end of the by the late 1930s [had electric lighting]" and I'm guessing that lighting was organised sooner than ironing.

So it might not be very old, in the scale of things, but it looks old. It looks like an object from another time. I found value in the creative thinking it inspired in me. And it's heavy. A participant in one of the enquiries at our Philosophy Late reflected about the value of an object being most simply tested by its weight. Although, presumably, there are exceptions to that rule.

The Philosophy Late might be old news, but we've got it together to share a collection of reflections by the facilitators on the night. You can read it here on our Think Together Sheffield website.

Intergenerational thinking

This water can features in the It's All a Show exhibition which is currently open at the University of Sheffield Western Bank Library.

"An exhibition by Sheldon Chadwick PhD at Liverpool John Moores University and the National Fairground and Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield.

It’s All a Show: Fairground Showmen, Identity and Mental Health explores what it means to be a Showman in the twenty-first century and the relationship between identity and mental health in that community."

I recently brought two groups of young people from Nexus MAT to the exhibition to join in with some 'philosophy in the gallery' activities. This water can wasn't a major feature of my planned activities, but drew the attention of both groups. In the first, there was mainly puzzlement about why you would put such an object into an exhibition. But in the second group, a young person connected with it immediately, because she said her grandparents had got a similar one at their caravan.

This opened the way for her to share intergenerational stories about her experience of holidays with her grandparents and what it's like for them living in their caravans, which school staff said they hadn't heard before. Her related experience opened up a different sense of reality in the exhibition content. "I help carry it sometimes," she said, "It's really heavy when it's full."

Place-based connections

I went to visit Sheffield friends who are now living in Wales and they took me to the Cafe Chakra in Machynlleth, where this poster was on the wall above our table. I loved everything about that cafe - it might even be my new favourite cafe, which isn't very convenient for a Sheffield-based person - but I particularly enjoyed finding this poster.

There I was in Wales, connecting to the place I now call home, Sheffield. And I was with friends from Sheffield, who now call Wales home. But the poster doesn't just connect me to Sheffield now; the names of the bands bring back music, the music connects me to my youth, when I lived in the other place I call home, Edinburgh. In my teens, a boy called Garry gave me Bow Wow Wow's single "I Want Candy" for my birthday. I hadn't thought about it for years, but I clearly remember the occasion, the room we were in, the paper cover on the vinyl disc, the song.

I'm yet to discover which year the programme relates to, but I guess Ben's Bar must have been part of the theatre's recovery programme, given the history of its near demise. It's worth reading the rollercoaster tale, told in brief on the Theatres Trust database "The Lyceum closed in 1968 and became a bingo house. Bingo failed in 1972." Heavy.

These days, it's pretty clear that we've got too much stuff in the world. But the way these kinds of objects and ephemera bring the past to life, build connections and inspire thoughts and imagination seems really valuable to me. It's one of the reasons I love doing philosophical enquiry in galleries and museums, because of the simple riches made available to us, by giving value to everyday objects from the past.

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