Norwegian version of this page

ECHO - Charismatic Objects from Roman Times to the Middle Ages

ECHO is a working community engaged in the study of artefacts that convey collective and conservation stories through their colour, language of form and material. These can be called culture-bearing objects or “charismatic objects” (Wingfield 2010). Both the physical characteristics of the object and the myths surrounding it may increase its meaning, enabling it to be perceived as an object with its own inherent power.

Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO / Mårten Teigen

A type of object or a specific object is not charismatic in itself, but acquires this quality through the relationships, memories and stories associated with it. Such objects may also represent or imitate older objects, objects from exotic networks or collective narratives and - as an echo of these - contribute to the formation of collective identities in an intertextual recreation of stories. Exploring these concepts leads to further discussion of object biography and may be linked to Weber’s (1964) concept of charisma, but also to the study of materiality and memories, where objects may be seen in the light of Gell’s (1992) “technologies of enchantment”. The collections of the Museum of Cultural History house a number of objects and groups of objects that may have been perceived as charismatic and culture-bearing in their time; in some cases they have represented stories about the past or the presence of magical powers, in other cases they have aroused notions of religious and social core values, or exotic relationships. By approaching the objects from this perspective and studying them from an interdisciplinary standpoint and over a long period, the research team wishes to explore what these objects represent and how and when they occur as a phenomenon.

The research team is to some extent continuing the focus of the “Take it Personally” project on groups of objects and their analysis as a basis for understanding social dynamics and change. Through its interdisciplinary areas of expertise, the team aims to generate and incorporate new knowledge about the Museum’s collections. The new laboratory in the Department of Conservation (linked to the Saving Oseberg project) will be an important resource for several subprojects. A number of the team members’ projects are linked to external research networks.


Gell, Alfred 1992: The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology. I: Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics. J. Coote and A. Shelton, eds. p. 40–66. Oxford: Clarendon.

Weber, Max 1964: Sociology of Religion. Translated by Ephraim Fischoff; introduction by Talcott Parsons. Boston: Beacon press.

Wingfield, Christopher 2010: Touching the Buddha: encounters with a charismatic object. I: Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, (red. Sandra Dudley). Routledge: London, p. 53-70.

Published Feb. 18, 2015 2:29 PM - Last modified Oct. 12, 2015 12:49 PM