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Museum: A Culture of Copies

Alternative title: Museum: En kopikultur

Awarded: NOK 8.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2015 - 2019


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What if copying is at the basis of museum practice? What if new copying technologies and practices have been at the center of change and development in museums since their inception? From such a perspective we have studied present day digitization projects in museums, as well as a long range of museum practices from the 18th century onwards through a range of case studies. Two PhDs have studied respectively the development of cataloguing practices at Norwegian cultural history museums and digitization practices in art museums: Joanna Iranowska has defended her thesis Multiplying Munch: New Digital Practices at the Munch Museum and Janne Werner Olsrud has defended On 'One of the most important tasks in a museum'. A study of the doing of documenting practices of museums objects. With copy theory as a tool, they have identified interesting developments and changes within respectively documentation practices and the production of digital copies. Through research visits in Sydney and Copenhagen they have established contacts with leading research environments. Their work have brought substantial new knowledge about what role copying practice plays in museums. And together they have brought to the fore one of the important finds of the project: That copies play an important role in all types of museums and in many different museum practices, but in quite different ways. We have consciously sought to compare and work across museum types, precisely to see differences and functions. In October 2016 a conference for museum sector employees as well as academics was organized in collaboration with The Norwegian Museum for Technology and Science, were a long range of case studies were presented (35 papers). This worked as a meeting point for the project and the museum sector early in the project and made it possible to follow the questions raised through the project. In the broadly composed project group we have discussed and opened up the different theoretical takes on the question of copying in museums, resulting in a thematic issue of the journal Culture Unbound in 2017, with the title Theorizing Copies. An important argument developed here is that the strong denigration of copies that has marked the museum sector in the 20th century, was strongly dependent on the development in the art field. This denigration led to huge collection of copies in all kinds of museums, was devalued, discarded or at least placed outside the radar of visitors and were not recognized as museum objects. This broad vision of what happened internationally was confirmed in our contacts with international scholars. We established a collaboration with Manchester Museum and National Museums, Scotland and in April 2017 a seminar was held in Edinburgh were empirical material was presented from the British Isles as well as from Scandinavia. In the National Museum of Scotland we could discuss with the objects within range: Large storage rooms with archaeological casts as well as even bigger collections of 19th century mechanical models. For us the collaboration with museums home and abroad has been rewarding, for the development of cases, but also for developing further research, of which one upcoming issue of Museum & Society on Digital Copies in Museums is a manifest product. In the book Museums as Cultures of Copies: The Crafting of Artefacts and Authenticity (Routledge 2019) we have published 17 chapters on a broad spectrum of copying practices in museums, from taxidermy to 3D printing in art museums. This book, we like to think, will serve as a standard for research on museums and copying, but also as an original contribution to the understanding of what museums are and how they work. In the book we study how museum practices have changed historically, how museum knowledge has developed across museum types, how new technologies have been actively in use in museums from the 18th century, and how these technologies have been influential in forming disciplines as well as the international museum landscape. We have developed a double perspective on museums, looking for hidden and forgotten copies, but we have also interrogated the museums with a copying perspective. In this way we have been able to see weakness and power of museums, their claims for eternity as well as their hunt for innovation.

Godt og økt samarbeid med museums- og kulturarvssektoren, har samarbeidet nært med Teknisk museum, Telemarksforskning, Manchester museum, National Museums Scotland Kompetanseheving for PhDer Oppbygging av internasjonalt forskningsnettverk, blant annet PhDer som har vært på utenlandsopphold, som har fått nye nettverk og tatt dem med tilbake til institusjonen (Sydney og København) Medvirket til etablering av nye internasjonale prosjekter Bidratt til utdanningstilbudet i Museologi og kulturarvstudier

We will address key questions in contemporary museological discourse and practice: How does digitization change the place of museums in society, the status of objects and collections, the role of visitors, and the work of museum practitioners? How can these changes in new reproduction technologies help us pose new questions to the history of museums and collections? Through an interdisciplinary humanities project, closely connected with museum practice, we will address the questions from a historical and contemporary perspective. Cutting across current debates, we will offer, we believe, a new take on debates about museums, digitization and authenticity: We will follow copies, and the practice of copying, in the museum as it has happened over a period of three centuries, employing historical findings to theorize the digitization processes of today. The contention is that copying is at the basis of museum practice and that new copying technologies and practices have been taken up and developed in museums since their inception. Alongside this, forgery and fakes, copies and imitations, have occupied researchers and the public. Copying practices might be seen as both subverting and constituting collections and museums - the variegated forms these practices take form the material to be investigated. The project is based at the University of Oslo/Institute of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) collaborating with the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, Telemark Research Institute and University of Copenhagen/Royal School of Library and Information Science, in addition to a network of Nordic and international researchers.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam