Using object biographies to understand the curation crisis: lessons learned from the museum life of an archaeological collection

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Museum Management and Curatorship, Volume 34, Number 4, p.362-382 (2019)



The challenges related to the management of an increasing number of often poorly documented orphaned archaeological museum collections, described in literature as a curation crisis, are growing. This article proposes that writing collection-level object biographies (referring to the notion of Kopytoff) provides a means to generate useful insights into the longue duree of curatorial processes and to understand how curation crises emerge, how to avoid them, and how to manage orphaned, poorly documented and unorganised collections. The potential of using object biographies as a means to tackle the curation crisis is demonstrated through a study of the life history of the Valsgärde collection housed at Gustavianum - Uppsala University Museum relating to a well-known and often-cited archaeological site with the same name. It traces the management and use of the collection and scrutinises the causes and consequences of the problems of curating and making available archaeological collections.
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