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Concepts of authenticity in different types of museums: Perspectives of curators and visitors

Working groupRealistic Depictions Lab

10/2015 - 12/2016


Leibniz Research Alliance "Historical Authenticity"

Project description

What makes authentic exhibits so special? What makes an object even authentic? Which role do originals play in an exhibition? Do curators and visitors share similar concepts of authenticity? The project investigated the importance of authenticity in the Leibniz research museums with guided interviews and an extensive visitor survey. On the one hand, different types of museums were compared, and on the other views of curators and museum professionals with those of the visitor.

In the first phase, museum experts, curators and researchers from different museums in Germany were interviewed on the topic of authenticity. The types of museums include cultural history, natural history and technical museums. Participants were eight Leibniz research museums: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Deutsches Museum München, Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum Bremerhaven, Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum Frankfurt and Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig Bonn. As a ninth additional partner the Deutsche Historische Museum in Berlin participated.
Based on these interviews, a questionnaire for visitors was designed during the second phase. It took into account all the different aspects of authentic objects and was distributed among the visitors in all nine museums. It was interesting to find out whether visitors in cultural history, natural history and technical museums are putting emphasis on the same or different aspects of authenticity.

As a result, we hoped to gain significant findings about the importance and the extent of authenticity in different types of museums for different audiences. We answered the question, if different museum types imply different concepts and perceptions of authenticity.


Deutsches Bergbau-Museum, Bochum

Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

Deutsches Museum, München

Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum, Bremerhaven

Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg

Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz

Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseum, Frankfurt

Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam

Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Bonn

Project Website: Historical Authenticity