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September 25, 2012


Jasper Visser

Great post, thanks for sharing this! Just one question: you mention 'original objects', yet it seems like you're talking about 'objects' in the general sense. I'm curious if you find people actually specifically prefer 'original objects' instead of facsimiles or reproductions. Thanks in advance!

Paul Orselli

SUPER post!

One of the essential things that museums have over other media is the opportunity to engage with real (not digital, not virtual) objects in a communal space.

Belinda Crowson

Great Post!
I find the various dichotomies interesting. As museums we know that the authentic experience, especially with objects, is the one thing we can do better than others and yet we use less and less objects. Your post highlights (and I believe it's absolutely true) that the deep connection people have is with objects; however, people also seem to be overpowered by too many objects. Or perhaps it's simply that it's about the correct arrangement of the objects.
Can't wait to find out what else your research shows.

Mary Knapp

The Merchant's House Museum in New York City, an 1832 rowhouse, is furnished almost entirely with furniture of the family who lived there for almost 100 years, and there are personal objects as well. It is precisely this authenticity that seems to enchant visitors. One seven-year old boy, when learning that the furniture was original, exclaimed, "You mean that's the REALLLY REAL table?" We highlight certain pieces by passing around photos of the object open (the secretary, the coal-burning stove, the pie safe, the armoire) because of course we can't keep opening and shutting them. We even have a looped recording of the pianoforte being played, which is concealed in the parlor. And the music being played comes from a music book owned by the family. Really real soundwaves!

Andrea Childress

No doubt objects can be fascinating and apparently memorable. I wonder, though, if what is remembered will be different in 20 years. Are children's interests changing? You're culling memories from today's adults, but should we use this as a guide for today's children?

Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

Thanks for all of the great comments.

Jasper - you asked about "original" objects vs. reproduction. Yes, the original artwork, or historical artifact, is much more meaningful than a reproduction. But reproductions are acceptable as long as people know they are reproductions (and why). Another category would be newer things that are made for museums, but become original artifacts, such as the heart at the Franklin Institute. Certainly made as an exhibition piece, but has morphed into an original object.

Belinda - totally agree. Moderation in all things! And it isn't as simple as simply throwing out a bunch of objects and letting visitors take it from there. The objects have to convey a strong narrative story, and/or lend themselves to an immersive environment. We'll talk more about this in a future post.

Finally, Andrea, you make a good point about children. We will be sharing some research on sticky experiences for children later this fall. Additionally, in our memory work, we did find adults in their 20s were different than older adults in terms of remembering objects in their childhood museum experiences . . . they were more likely to remember them! (I mention this because adults in their 20s did grow up in very different museum environments than older adults.)


I have built four Storyboard Dioramas for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.Three are now on permanent display with a fourth coming soon.
Viewing airplanes has changed a lot over the last few years.Gone are the days of a roped off airplane with a sign on a stand.

Jennifer Hammond

Based on my personal experiences, and watching visitors for quite a few years now, these findings about "stickiness" don't surprise me on one level although I am interested to see them with hard numbers attached. My personal theory on the power of objects is that they represent where our imaginations and the real world intersect. A lot of what museums discuss (history, dinosaurs, the surface of the moon, Rembrandt paintings) are experienced mostly or entirely in our heads, with the help of various intermediaries from books to reconstructed environments. So when we witness incontrovertible proof that they exist/existed in the real world, wow--that is some powerful emotional stuff. No wonder it's sticky!

Steven Lubar

I can't find, in the series of blog posts, what prompt the respondents were replying to. Did you ask them for meaningful experiences, for what they remembered, or some other question? Fascinating results!


This is a great series. I'm very glad that you were able to write about the results from this survey.

I am currently developing a project to create meaningful museum experiences for very young children (ages 3-5) by connecting museums with daycare programs in my town. I feel that the majority of your findings definitely correlate to other demographics and developmental stages because they reveal our own fundamental needs for successful learning and memory making.

Objects are what we first use to understand the world before we have the language to do so, so it certainly makes sense that objects are the most prominent feature in meaningful memories - and not just drawers or rows of artifacts but carefully selected and placed ones.

I believe it will be easier to make meaningful memories in this very young group than in older patrons because their brains are biologically more maleable and adept at learning, making connections, and also using their own imagination as an enhancement tool to the experience.

Great work here, thank you for this series!

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