What are they worth? A holistic exploration of the Lewis chessmen and the values placed upon them
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Carter, Stephanie L.
Humans interact with objects in every part of their daily lives and have been doing so for millennia. The oldest recorded objects are stone tools that were created over 3.3 million years ago and predate the timeline of known human ancestors. Things are inanimate and have no value until we engage with them. We systematically breathe life into them through the assignment of meaning and value. In turn, our lives are affected by the agency they hold over us. Values we place on things are influenced by what influences us: our history, our culture, our religion, our identity, and many other definers of what makes us who we are. Culture is important - it connects and binds us to our communities. How we interact with things can be achieved on an individual level or in a collective group. Understanding how we create value or add meaning to objects is important to understand our society, who we are, and who we want to be. One important example which highlights the array of values we put onto objects can be seen through the Lewis Chessmen. The Chessmen are a 12th-century collection of playing pieces found off Scotland’s western coast on the Isle of Lewis. These pieces have been caught up in an array of values relating to Scottish identity, politics, and culture. Additionally, more worldwide values assigned to the pieces include their rarity, their use as props in popular culture, and as pieces of art. This thesis is an insular examination of how one specific collection has been influenced and moulded by the values which have been placed on them. The theories, methods, and ideas presented could also be applied to many other museum collections and objects. This study has been done with a holistic approach of intentionally combining previous studies with new ideas, allowing for a fully inclusive exploration of the range of values that have become attached to this collection. This thesis is small, but the techniques employed could be a comparative example with other groups across the world who are fighting to retain their material collections and cultural relativity in an ever-changing and globalizing world.