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date: 25 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter aims to show that ideas of the sacred, the numinous, and the contested, rather than of the rational, are most important in understanding how the meanings of material culture are formed and the role of museums. It considers how museums have offered rich contexts in which the changing, conflicting, and multiple meanings of material culture have developed. Scottish national identity, contested and unsettled, is shown in the contribution of museums and objects to discussions about a link between the Classical past and Scottish history in the early nineteenth century, the creation of a national museum in the second half of the nineteenth century, a temporary exhibition of Scottish history as part of a Great Exhibition in 1911, and two repatriation cases at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Recent developments in museum practice are discussed, including the impact of both growing professionalism and the recognition of the rights of groups in museums. The chapter concludes by arguing that objects generate and embody meanings that are shared, entangled, and co-constitutive. Instead of attempting to identify the “correct” meaning, it is therefore the responsibility of museums to explore the range of personal and shared rights that objects engender.

Keywords: museums, new museology, biography of objects, collections, repatriation, indigenous peoples

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