A (physical or virtual) piece that is collected and displayed. Often canonized and venerated. Has some sort of relevance or significance¬†(whether tangible or aesthetic), and the line between use-value and aesthetic can be very blurry, especially when dealing with “anthropological” objects. The notion of the object is fraught within museum studies. Tensions: whether or not to label, whether or not to contextualize, who gets to decide which objects get included: experts or the democratic process. Conn (“Does the Museum Need Objects?”).


Anything (a process or a thing) that can modify our experiences with objects. Can sometimes blur the line between the viewer and the object (e.g., Rain Room) and change your relationship with the object. In museums, digital technology (as articulated at our current moment) is often used to increase engagement with objects — heightening our anxiety about whether the object itself matters. Has a tendency to mediate our experience with the object (which could be a good or bad thing!).

Exhibitionary Complex

Deals with power relations between the museum and the patrons. This concept, which Tony Bennett articulates in “The Exhibitionary Complex,” draws on Foucault to state that museums regulate and control patrons through relationships of looking. Museums, in Bennett’s analysis, are extensions of state-sanctioned or elite power, and the patron’s journey through the museum is a way of recognizing that power. By venerating state-approved objects, we’re participating in an exercise of subjugation to the state. Part of a widespread modernist tendency to use space as an expression of power. Vision and looking are very important in this analysis.


Greenblatt: The ability of an object to make a long-lasting impact on you, and for you to understand it in a holistic way. In museums, an object that evokes resonance will have historical context and a lot of information. Objects “bounce off” each other to create a web of meaning. One way of approaching museum practice.


Greenblatt: The initial “wow” response, created by isolating and highlighting individual objects. That response can lead to veneration.

The Museum Effect

Alpers: Changing relation between you and the object when the object is put in a museum. The effect can vary depending on the context, but it always changes your relationship to the object. Related to the exhibitionary complex and the mindset that people have when they enter the museum.


The will of the curator, the use of the space, and the use of technology to convey a meaning that they want the audience to understand. The desired result is not always achieved (or is challenged), because the public can respond in unpredictable ways. Weil: Museums are shifting to have more of a public service and public engagement outlook, meaning their intentions have changed. Museums are now branching into new fields, including sustainable development. There’s a general understanding that museums are a bedrock institution of culture, and that they should take an active role in initiating conversations and influencing culture in modern society. Intentions of museums change and shift according to the population and where the museum is located.

Digital Storytelling

The use of multiple technologies to create a narrative. Perhaps a multimedia collage, in the sense that you’re bringing in many different modes to tell one story. Has a personal appeal to it, an appeal to emotions or senses. Enhances the viewer’s experience by giving them a chance to use a variety of their senses. A contextualizing device: it allows you to situate the object within the context from which it emerged.


Data about data. Structured information as a series of records. Metadata structures are different for each discipline. Metadata is systematic — but that system is specific to each discipline. The way we structure metadata reflects what we value, and limits what we can do with data. We have to be very intentional with our systematic structure. Allows you to compare different collections (e.g., collections of zoo animals).

Controlled Vocabulary

Method of restricting selections within categories, to ensure that your metadata will be consistent. Reflect our ideological priorities. Library of Congress Subject Headings, Getty Vocabularies.