Storytelling Through Objects


Every object in our lives has a story to tell. Storytelling around cherished objects can provide often socially-isolated participants with a common and “neutral” space for engaging in conversation and rich interaction with others (Howarth 2014). Objects that are core to individual identity can likewise serve as “bridges” linking to a group identity, and helping to forge connections where social, cultural, language, economic, ethnic, age, ability, or other barriers might otherwise prevail.

Personal objects can be used to reflect what is meaningful in one’s life, conveying one’s values, goals and aspirations, and serving as a form of self-expression -Csikszentmihalyi & RochbergHalton 1981

An individual invests meaning in his or her memento (Belk 1990), telling stories about it which are, ultimately, narratives about the self (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton 1981).

It is the objects themselves that are central to the creation of rich narrative meanings in these stories. We contend that any narrative system seeking to use object associations to evoke a story needs to foreground the objects as semantically meaningful. Stories told through objects have the potential to engage senses not ordinarily invoked in traditional storytelling experiences. Touch, taste, and smell are currently under-utilised for the telling of stories and their potential as additional channels for narrative information remains unexplored.


In cultural heritage and museum studies, collections of artifacts are assembled as touchstones for preserving historical knowledge. Personal objects are often used for memory elicitation in the preservation of cultural knowledge. The Australian Migration Heritage Center encourages the aging members of post-war immigrant families to construct personal stories out of their meaningful objects and documents. These “object stories” are part of a broader exploration of movable heritage which they define as “any natural or manufactured object of heritage significance”. By using objects from their lives, participants are able to communicate and preserve personal stories that might otherwise be lost. (Thompson, Writing Object Stories.)

The aim was to write a story that required the objects themselves in order for it to be complete; a story that could not be communicated purely through language. We thus chose to begin with the objects themselves, in order to help ground the writing within what would ultimately be the medium of its communication.


“Objects are more than simply utilitarian items with a functional purpose. Instead, they are gateways into a web of human associations and meanings.” -Joshua Tanenbaum, Karen Tanenbaum, Alissa Antle