Object Knowledge: Researching Objects in the Museum Experience

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museums, museum studies, museum objects, object knowledge


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


This paper investigates an interdisciplinary perspective on museum research, offering a new orientation and methodology for fieldwork. It begins from the stance of "object knowledge", which describes the ways of knowing that come from human interaction with and study of physical objects. Next, is the documentation of the power of objects to define the lived experience of time, place, and identity, presented with an applied and theoretical perspective on tangible objects and their relationship to lived experience. Through object knowledge we argue that museums can better understand their impact and influence on visitors and define the ways that objects and artifacts serve as key aspects of human life that contribute to multiple ways of knowing. To make use of this perspective, phenomenology, as a field methodology is most useful in studying visitor experiences and interactions with objects, artifacts, and exhibitions. As an underused strategy for research in museums, phenomenology offers a way of investigating the relationship between viewer and object that can help scholars better understand the meaning of museums and their relationship to our human worlds of knowing, being and experiencing history, the arts, the sciences. This process offers a re-engaging with the muses, so to speak. Using multidisciplinary theory drawn from education, information studies, semiotics, anthropology, and history, researchers can better ascertain the meaning and impact of museums from a decidedly human standpoint. The convergence of object knowledge and phenomenological fieldwork offers exciting new avenues to continue the study of material culture and museums while enhancing our understanding of the human experience.