Logo eprints

Museums as Living Organisms. A Historical Perspective on Change and Continuity in Museum Institutions

Bernard, Elisa (2023) Museums as Living Organisms. A Historical Perspective on Change and Continuity in Museum Institutions. Advisor: Catoni, Prof. Maria Luisa. Coadvisor: Pellegrini, Prof. Emanuele . pp. 530. [IMT PhD Thesis]

[img] Text (Doctoral thesis)
Restricted to IMT staff and National library only until 23 February 2026.

Download (74MB) | Request a copy


This dissertation engages with a question that is underrated and underexplored in the literature on museum history: how do museums respond to and/or trigger societal, political, and cultural changes? To answer this question, the research concentrates on art and archaeological museums in Italy between National Unification and the post-war period. Indeed, the history of Italian museums and theoretical debates over how to organize museums and public education in late nineteenth/early twentieth-century Italy provide paradigmatic cases. The first chapter gives an overview of the dominant avenues of research in social, political, and cultural history and role of the museum, spotlighting key historical moments and historiographical approaches. It then applies to museum institutions the Greek philosopher Plato’s well-known observation that no living organism or no piece of knowledge stays the same throughout its lifetime since the fundamental nature of human bodies and knowledge is continuous change. We can thus ask what causes a museum to be perceived as the same museum over time and analyze the conditions under which the balance between continuity and change breaks down. Combining contextual analysis and a case study approach appeared to be the most promising strategy to address these questions. For example, an analysis of the debate over the function and mission of archaeological museums in post-Unification Italy shows that museums can serve multiple purposes. These purposes, in turn, might shape museums’ collections, visions, and display and narrative strategies. The second and third chapters present the analysis of two case studies that contextualize this idea that museums never remain the same. They also outline an analytical model drafted as part of this research according to which the study of the concrete changes museums undergo or trigger in their interaction with, and in relation to, societal, political, and cultural changes enable us to identify the active fields of force in any given situation in which museums are located and act as institutions. The case studies identified and analyzed in thisdissertation are the National Museum of Palermo and Civic Museum of Padua. The analysis proposed here classifies various stimuli for change, both exogenous and endogenous, and shows how these forces can coalesce in specific moments of a museum’s life so that, viewed aposteriori, they turn into pivotal turning points. At the same time, the research presented here also takes into account museums’behavioral complexity in responding to and triggering change while maintaining continuity.

Item Type: IMT PhD Thesis
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
PhD Course: Analysis and Management of Cultural Heritage
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.13118/imtlucca/e-theses/374
NBN Number: urn:nbn:it:imtlucca-29006
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2023 08:09
URI: http://e-theses.imtlucca.it/id/eprint/374

Actions (login required, only for staff repository)

View Item View Item