What is the Real Thing in the Museum? An Interpretative Phenomenological Study

Publication Title

Museum Management and Curatorship

Publication Date


Document Type





museum studies, LIS, museum curatorship


Archival Science | Collection Development and Management | Library and Information Science


This article describes a study of the different ways museum visitors understand their experience of the real thing (TRT) in the museum context. Many professionals and scholars claim that the uniqueness of the museum – in relation to other leisure and educational experiences and offerings – centers on being the keepers of ‘real things.’ Having an insight into the visitor perspectives of what they consider real is important and relevant to museum professionals as well as other cultural heritage workers as it can assist them to better respond to visitor experiences of TRT. The study used an interpretative phenomenological analysis approach to inquire into the qualitatively different ways of understanding the experience of TRT in the museum. The research resulted in four ways of understanding an experience of TRT in museums: through aspects of the self, in relation to others, through the presence of the actual physical thing, and through one's surroundings.