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Museum: A Culture of Copies (completed)

As affordable 3D printing has been launched, the museum community has reacted emphatically. At professional gatherings firms offering their 3D printing technologies figure prominently, and museum association websites offer articles, discussion and advice on 3D printing. The paradox is obvious: museums are commonly described as storehouses of the real, authentic, material object, but are now eagerly embracing the new copying technologies. From 2015 through 2018 a projectgroup funded by the Norwegian Research Council will unfold and study this paradox.

A big room with many different things like dolls, animals, books etc. Drawing.

"Musei Wormiani Historia," the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Wormius' cabinet of curiosities.

Photo: Wikipedia, illustration.

About the project

The project directly addresses key questions in contemporary museological discourse and practice: how will digital representations change the place of the museum in society, the status of the object and the collection, the role of the visitor, and the work of museum practitioners?

Through an interdisciplinary project involving researchers from a range of disciplines in the humanities, working in close collaboration with museum practitioners, we will address these questions from a combined historical and contemporary perspective. Cutting across current debates, we will raise questions from a new angle: We will follow copies, and the practice of copying, in the museum as it has transpired over a period of three centuries, employing historical findings to theorize the digitalization processes of today. Our hypothesis is that the museum has never been primarily a storehouse for the authentic, the original, and the real material object. Rather, the museum has provided a space for multifarious representations, within which it creates “the real” through a wide range of copying practices. The representation is what forms the basis of museum practice. This perspective, we believe, will allow us to produce a nuanced and innovative understanding of contemporary museums and to contribute significantly to current theoretical discussions.

Objectives and project organization

Our premise, then, is that there is nothing essentially new about digitalization – collections have always been fluid, and authentic objects have emerged as results of museum work, rather than formed its basis. The philosopher Ian Hacking maintains that representation always precedes reality. We will make a more modest claim: that the copy, the drawing, the model and the digital image are often what make museums into storehouses of the real. To investigate and substantiate our claims we have developed a range of studies, ranging from collecting practices in the eighteenth century through digital copying in contemporary museums.

The project is based at the University of Oslo/Institute of Cultural Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS) collaborating with the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, Telemark Research Institute and Royal School of Library and Information Science/University of Copenhagen, in addition to a network of Nordic and international researchers.


The project is financed by the Norwegian Research Council (NFR/NRC).

Read a detailed project description

Published June 27, 2013 12:27 PM - Last modified Apr. 6, 2020 10:45 AM


Project manager:

Brita Brenna
+47 228 56932


Detailed list of participants