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Strategy 1, Meaningful Materialities: Forgotten, Treasured and Reinvented Objects and Places

Reconstruction of Madonna from Hedalen. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO / Eirik Irgens Johnsen.

Our world of objects and our material surroundings are a unique gateway to an understanding of economic, technological and political structures as well as social mechanisms and relationships, but also attitudes and emotionality. A central concept of this priority area is the creation of meaning. The meaning of objects and places is not given; they become meaningful through their involvement in cultural practices and contexts. Objects and places are given value by being bearers of collective stories, and as representatives of status and narratives. They can also act as tools for building and communicating knowledge and for handing down identity and collective ideals. Yet objects and places can also be seen as superfluous and worthless.

Both valuable and worthless objects are circulated and recirculated in time and space, and their meaning often changes in the process. The creation of value - or a lack of value - takes place through a variety of large and small practices, such as storytelling, rituals and inscriptions, but also the opposite, avoidance or simply discarding. Objects and places are not merely categorised and used (or left unused), they also contribute to the contexts they are made a part of, by virtue of their material and sensory qualities, and contribute through the narratives they become part of, and which have become part of them.

Approaches to materiality include:

  • Production and consumption
  • Technology and knowledge transfer
  • Ritual and religious practices
  • Political and economic ideologies
  • Materiality, sensuality, aesthetics
  • Museology, world heritage and cultural heritage

The Museum of Cultural History’s extensive archaeological and ethnographic collections and its role in administrating our cultural heritage are essential aspects of the work of the Museum staff. A significant part of the Museum’s source material is what we today would characterise as waste, having been discarded by past communities. But the Museum also maintains artistic or particularly significant artefacts that have had great value for the communities that produced them and for the people who used them. Many of these objects increase in value when later defined as part of a cultural heritage, and are given new mythical and ideological content as exhibits in a present-day context. As museum and heritage objects they today pose an increasing economic and political challenge. Databases with map-based interfaces combined with digital archives, 3D visualisations and photogrammetry enable a form of virtual repatriation but also create new challenges. Such challenges can be linked to the stories we tell with what we collect and exhibit, and to how we give meaning to our heritage in the context of a changing society, with increasingly close interaction between media and audience.

Internet-based exhibitions, catalogues and databases are important elements of restitution to source communities and represent new ways of sharing collections, including links to other museums. 3D scanning and photogrammetry can be linked to reciprocal knowledge generating processes in the relationship between researchers, visitors and the inhabitants of the place of origin of the artefacts, but also to new versions of the role of the copy in museology. Other challenges can involve post-colonial processes of mutual knowledge generation and the inclusion of local knowledge and local actors as part of the knowledge a museum should pursue (intangible heritage).

Digitisation and publication of objects as open data and in customised Internet portals raises new questions as to what can be displayed, and how, and the relevant ethical guidelines must be clarified and renewed in line with developments.

Target areas

Published Feb. 18, 2015 1:16 PM - Last modified Oct. 9, 2018 2:55 PM