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A thesis on the authenticity and preservation of functionally-used objects

Thesis by Joshua Sundermeyer (2018)

For many museums with physical collections, preventive conservation was the basis for “best-practice” collections management policies. Under such a philosophy, the purposeful subjection of a collections object to hazardous conditions would be unacceptable. Hazardous conditions simultaneously risked a permanent loss to the object’s state of preservation and impacted its original authenticity. And yet, there were museums that functionally utilized their objects of functional or utilitarian purpose. Utilization referred to the museum using a utilitarian or functional object toward the purpose it was built to perform. There was not a large body of literature detailing how museums with functioning collections objects regarded the issues of authenticity and preservation. This study attempted to discover how museums that functionally-use objects from permanent collections considered how object authenticity intersected object preservation. This study employed a Delphi technique to acquire data. The intention was to find consensus, or a convergence of opinion, amongst the participants. Collections managers of five museums in the United States that functionally used objects were included in the study. The results of this study suggested a single principal conclusion: that the intersection of authenticity and preservation of museum collections objects is that of the functional-use of those objects. The authenticity and preservation of museum collections objects were independently and predominately defined as hinging on the objects’ active and functional use. The primary limitation to this study was the small sample size.

Keywords: Class of 2018, authenticity, collections management, functional, museology, museum, preventive conservation, museum studies


Sundermeyer, J., & O’Donnell, Wilson. (2019). A thesis on the authenticity and preservation of functionally-used objects. [University of Washington Libraries]