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Research Projects

Digital Economy Sandpit: EPSRC & AHRC £1.4m (Value to University of Dundee: £219,241) 09.2009 – 09.2012

TOTEM - We all have a story to tell
TOTEM - Oxfam Curiosity Shop, Selfridges.
Totem - Annie Lennox at the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, Selfridges

Tales of Things and Electronic Memories

Main project collaborators

Dr Chris Speed, Edinburgh College of Art (Principle Investigator)
Dr Maria Edith Burke, University of Salford (Co-Investigator)
Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith, University College London (Co-Investigator)
Dr Angelina Karpovich, Brunel University (Co-Investigator)
Dr Jon Rogers, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Co-Investigator)
Simone O’Callaghan, DJCAD, University of Dundee (Researcher Co-Investigator)


Dr Jon Rogers (Co-Investigator)Digital Economy, DJCAD and University of Dundee logos
Simone O’Callaghan (Researcher Co-Investigator)
Arthi Manohar (PhD Researcher)

Context and background

Totem The TOTeM project is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Internet of Things’. This term is used to describe the increasingly popular use of tagging technologies to track physical objects in the real world. Every new object manufactured will be part of this extended Internet, because ‘things’ will have been tagged and indexed by the manufacturer during production. Consumers will have the ability to
‘read’ the tags through the use of mobile ‘readers’ and use the information connected to
the object, to inform their purchase, use and disposal of an object.

Aims and objectives

Each research partner institution is responsible for different areas of the research. At Dundee research is art- and design-based, focusing on Platforms for Provenance, where storytelling methods are being examined for defining and capturing provenance. Looking back at the history of old objects, as well as forward to the possible futures of new objects, the Dundee team are also exploring new means of providing legacies of provenance for future generations.

TOTeM aims to find a new way of preserving social history – through people’s memories. As more importance is placed on the objects that are already part of people’s lives it is hoped that new uses for old objects may be found and this will encourage people to think twice before throwing something away.

TOTeM expect to nurture understanding and communication across generations and cultures that many aspects of technology are marginalising. TOTeM offers a culturally and economically radical way of supporting a ‘memory economy’ in an age when looking forward is beginning to get us lost.


Totem Dissemination has occurred through journals, publications, conferences, seminars and events such as workshops, exhibitions, open days and fairs. Further key activities include:

TOTeM’s web project, Tales of Things, offers a simple but novel approach to recording social histories and a playful critique of the tagging culture. Using the latest technology to ‘tag’ objects by using QR codes, users attach memories to their objects in the form of video, text or audio. When scanned using a smart phone, media is launched and the object can be seen/heard to tell a story about the memories that it is associated with.

Working in collaboration with the Dundee Contemporary Arts, QR codes have been piloted on their stand at the first two Multiplied contemporary art fairs (2010, 2011) organised by Christie’s in London. Visitors to the fair were able to swipe the tags with their mobile phones and preview a digital archive on each artist and their work. Summer workshops for The Small Society Lab invited the public to explore new technologies, tagging, storytelling and social networking.

A further partnership was with Oxfam for their Curiosity Shop in Selfridges, London. Items in the shop were tagged with a QR code which linked to stories about what the money raised would buy, some also included unique stories from the celebrity who donated the item. Visitors to the shop viewed the stories on their own Smartphones or one of the bespoke RFID readers. Once the item was scanned the object story appeared on a plasma screen in the store, making the object come alive.

Designing for the 21st Century - click here to download research description in

Digital Economy Sandpit: EPSRC & AHRC £1.4m (Value to University of Dundee: £219,214)
09.2009 – 09.2012