DISEASE, DANGER, FORGING & FETISHISM – Kate Smith

RESPONSE # 1 – Kate Smith

Thirty minutes into the first meeting of the 100 Hours team, Leonie Hannan (Co-Lead Researcher) and I produced an object which the entire group will focus on for the duration of the project. At each subsequent session we will return as a group to a £10 note. The note itself was taken from my purse before the session and had been obtained after paying for chewing gum with a £20 note at a newsagent near the UCL campus. Our discussion about the note, led by Ludovic Coupaye (Lecturer, Anthropology, UCL) was wide-ranging. We explored the material and visual qualities of the object, how it is recognised, by who and why that recognition is important. We talked about value, iconography, authenticity, disease, danger, forging and fetishism. What struck me most, however, was how our engagement with the object changed it.

British people deal with £10 notes on a daily basis, they constitute an important part of the fabric of everyday life, and yet we rarely look at them or encounter them as specific objects. Similarly, in our discussion on Thursday 19 September, although continually returning to physical qualities of the object, making it very much present-at-hand we continued to talk in general terms. During the session, however, we slowly began to mark out this particular object as meaningful by handling it and discussing its preservation and destruction. This one bank note stood in for all £10 bank notes and then became our bank note. Confronted with both the general and specific as it existed within one object, I began to consider more closely the object I have chosen to focus on during this project – a whistle.

Dog Whistle, Galton Collection

Dog Whistle, Galton Collection

Constructed by the eugenicist Francis Galton for use in his research in the late 1870s, the whistle became a device through which he could measure levels of human and animal hearing. The whistle was particularly important in measuring the pitches at which humans and animals began to and stopped hearing. In order to create different pitches Galton produced appendages that could be added to the primary piece of whistle. Galton crafted an object, multiple objects to perform the functions he required, the whistle constituted and continues to constitute a unique object – it is specific. At the same time, however, it is thought that the whistle had an important wider impact.[1] It was realised that dogs were responsive to whistles that produced certain pitches and the Galton whistle led to changes in both the dog whistle and dog training.[2] The Galton whistle, which is now part of the Galton Collection at University College London, is linked to dog whistles generally. Like the £10 note it might be assumed that one dog whistle could stand in for any other dog whistle. Yet, at the same time this cannot be the case, because as soon as someone engages with a whistle – purchases, uses, drops it, loses it, hits it with a hammer to change the pitch or etches their dogs name upon it – it changes. Meaning is produced through our engagement with objects.


[1] I write this tentatively. I need to complete further research to ascertain the exact nature of its wider impact.

[2] Again, I need to complete further research to understand the exact nature of this innovation.

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