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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Gregson, N., Crang, M. & Watkins, H. Souvenir, Salvage and the Death of Great Naval Ships. Journal of Material Culture. 2011;16:301-324.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper examines the social and physical death of naval ships as a form of military material culture. It draws on ethnographic research with veteran’s associations in the UK and US, and in a UK ship breaking yard, to explore the relationship of a naval ship’s social and physical death to memorialisation, souvenir manufacture and souvenir salvage. A naval ship’s social death is argued to animate a distributed community of ex-naval personnel, for whom it is normative to memorialise ‘their ship’, and to materialise their sociality, and residue military masculinities, through a range of manufactured souvenirs worn in everyday life. The social death of naval ships has, until recently, been largely disconnected from the sites of their physical death, or destruction, but the advent of ethical disposal policies in the UK has brought about the geographical compression of the two. The paper charts three phases of ex-naval personnel’s engagement with the destruction of ‘their ship’: pilgrimage, souvenir salvage and collective memorialisation. We argue that proximate visualised destruction makes ex-naval personnel witnesses to an object death. More generally, the paper highlights that resource recovery regimes need to be thought not through recycling and the equivalence of objects as materials, but through reincarnation. As we show, the reincarnation of ‘great things’ does not always become them.


Info on project at:

Department of Geography