The Journal of Material Culture has a new article, “Souvenir salvage and the death of great naval ships,” by Nicky Gregson, Mike Crang, and Helen Watkins.
This article re-orientates work on the material culture of war by considering military material culture beyond conflict and demonstrating how military material culture has extended social lives and passes through value regimes, as do many forms of material culture. The article focuses on end-of-life military things, specifically the neglected field of naval vessels. It shows how the social and physical death of naval ships connects to residue military masculinities, particularly through the complexities of souvenir value. Drawing on ethnographic research with veterans’ associations, the authors chart how naval ships become ghostly and how this connects with the salvage of personal mementos, often of a military domestic; they go on to describe the ambivalence of these accommodations within a civilian domestic. The article shows how collective practices of ship memorialization disclose a hierarchy of souvenir value and how souvenir salvage constitutes a distributed sociality from the fragments of destruction to own the memory of what is being destroyed. The authors argue that visioning and visualizing the destruction of naval vessels makes ex-naval personnel witnesses to an object death and highlights the fact that resource recovery regimes need to be re-thought through reincarnation; they also show how the reincarnation of ‘great things’ does not always become them.