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Museums and Interpretation: Visitors’ Narratives, Objects and Digital Tools


Prof. dr. W.M.H. Hupperetz & M.J. van der Vaart MA

Members of the research group

Prof. dr. Wim Hupperetz

Dr. Mirjam Hoijtink

Merel van der Vaart MA

Inge Kalle-den Oudsten MA

Sarike van Slooten MA

Description of the research programme of the research group

What happens in museums when visitors and objects meet? And what is the role of so called ‘interpretation’ in this relationship between visitor and object? The past decades have seen many changes in the way museums engage their audiences. Sometimes guided by their collections – the arrival of performance art asked a different attitude from both museum professionals and visitors alike – , but mostly influenced by societal changes, evolving opinions about the role of museums, and the arrival of digital media as interpretation devices, museums have been searching for different ways to help their audiences interpret their collections.

This research group explores the use and effect of both analogue and digital interpretation tools in the museum context. By doing so, it forms a bridge between two of the research areas of the Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture (AHM): Materiality and Material Culture and Digitality & E-Memories, and operates in the space between objects, visitors and interpretation tools. In this context, interpretation tools can be anything from text labels or public programmes directly involving the collections, to digital devices, or the lighting and the positioning of objects. The research programme will mostly focus on on-gallery visitor interaction, although it also acknowledges the fading boundaries between the on-site and online, particularly since the arrival of smartphones. The aim of the research group is to better understand the relationship between visitors, objects and museum interpretation during the museum visit. Early studies have focused on the integration of digital interpretation devices as part of museum exhibitions, but the group has the ambition to widen its scope and also include analogue interpretation and engagements tools within its research. In particular, there is an interest in further exploring the impact of co-creative and participatory practices on museum interpretation.

With the Allard Pierson Museum, part of the University of Amsterdam, as its home base, the research group is uniquely positioned to foster museum-based studies, as well as action research. Collaborating with a growing network of national and international partners in the field of museums, academia and the creative industries, the Museums and Interpretation research group is part of an international research agenda. The group is part of international, EU funded projects meSch (2013-2017) and CEMEC (2015-2019) and the Digital Museum Lab, based at the Allard Pierson Museum.

Scholars and prospective PhD candidates who are interested in exploring this field of research are invited to contact the coordinators.

Envisaged results

2-3 PhD dissertations, grant proposals, peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and museum exhibitions.

Work plan and time schedule

2014-2019, with possible extension.

Societal relevance

Research into the ways in which museums influence the visitor experience through their interpretation practices will investigate potential barriers to a museum visit. The discourse around museum interpretation is closely linked to a discussion about inclusiveness and accessibility. In order to cater to a wide range of audiences, and to make museum and heritage collections accessible to as many people as possible, it is crucial to study the impact of museum interpretation. Therefore, the research carried out by the Museums and Interpretation research group has a direct research valorisation and societal relevance in that the outcomes of its work can help museums to become more inclusive institutions.