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Things We Keep - Curators of Our Own History

Why do expatriates keep certain objects while leaving others behind in the process of moving from their home country to Britain?

We all keep certain things for no apparent reason; some are used on a daily basis, some stashed away in a box or left adorning a windowsill. But why do we hold on to them?

This question prompted Things we keep, a project run by King’s in collaboration with the German Historical Institute London (GHIL) and artist Rolf Sachs. Things we keep curated objects that Germans brought with them when they moved to London and thus explored the narratives behind these belongings in new ways.

Through the selection of their objects, these German expats became the curators of their own history, involved in musealisation debates that included discussions on who decides which things are worthy of preservation and exhibition. The project revealed how emotions and memories inform our choices to keep certain things, and what role they play in our everyday life.

Over 3000 people have seen the stories of the objects and their owners, filmed interviews and much more on the multimedia website

More than 400 visitors visited the interactive exhibition at the GHIL from September until November 2015. Students in London and elsewhere in the UK continue to use the online materials in their learning about Germany, its history and the visualisation of the past.

Exhibition: ‘Things We Keep  curators of our own history’ 

10 September 2015 – 5 November 2015, Monday to Friday, 10.00 – 17.00 

German Historical Institute London, 17 Bloomsbury Square, WC1A 2NJ London

On show were ten selected objects whose stories are explored through oral history interviews. The interviews are also available on the  project website, where more objects and their stories can be found.

You can read more about the project in our news piece.


About Us

German Historical Institute

The  German Historical Institute London (GHIL) promotes independent research on British history, the history of the Empire and Commonwealth, and Anglo-German relations. It facilitates communication between German and British historians through its publications, research grants and its programme of conferences, workshops and public lectures. Its public library specialises in German history. The institute is part of the Max Weber Foundation — German Humanities Institutes Abroad.

The project was curated by:

  • Dr Katrin Schreiter, currently working as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of German and European Studies at King’s College London
  • Dr Tobias Becker, who currently works as a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute
  • Julia Alcamo, who was an undergraduate research fellow at King’s College London in 2015

To find out more go to or follow the project on Twitter:  @thingswekeep.

Things we keep – Curators of our own history, is a collaboration between the Department of European & International Studies at King’s College London. German Historical Institute London and artist Rolf Sachs. It was supported by the university's Culture team.

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