Past Matter, Object No. 3: A Penny

This week Dr Victoria Bates shares one of her Grandfather’s pennies and her interest in telling the stories of things often overlooked.


This coin from 1902 is one of my late grandfather’s coin collection, with which I was always fascinated as a child. I spent many an hour inventing stories about the journey of these coins, the different people who had spent them, what goods and services they had been used to purchase, and how they made their way to my grandfather. This particular coin is also representative of my more general approach to history. It has never been the big histories (or the valuable, shiny coins) that capture my imagination but rather the supposedly prosaic histories (and worn, common coins), which bring with them the stories of how people thought, lived and behaved in the past.

Past Matter, Object No. 2: Some Lake District Litter

Following on from our first object last week, our Head of Department Prof. Tim Cole describes how a piece of litter discarded in the Lake District sparked an interest in the past…


I glimpsed this bottle walking along a sunken lane in the southern Lake District when I was eight years old. I don’t know if that is when I decided to become a historian, but it certainly was part of a process of fascination with the past. Unearthing it from beneath moss and soil felt like connecting not just with the ‘past’ but with the unknown person who tossed this bottle to the side of the track a hundred or so years earlier. It is the everyday actions of ordinary people – in often times extraordinary contexts – that has occupied, and continues to occupy, my historical imagination.