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Title: Examining museums collections from a semiotic viewpoint : a historical review
Author: Huang, P. H. J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2002
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This dissertation aims to use Saussure's and Peirce's sign theories to offer new insights into museum communication. One of the key practices for museum professionals is to interpret exhibited objects and to send out the interpretations to audiences. Yet so far very little work has been done to explore the significance of classification principles/structures in meaning-giving. The primary objectives of this dissertation are hence to establish classification principles as the centre of museum communication and to investigate related interceptive issues systematically. Saussure's semiology and structuralism will be firstly presented to argue that in any systematically-classified collection, the defining meanings/interpretations of the objects are endowed by the classification principle of the system. But I will also propose that to allow exhibited objects to be understood more comprehensively and closer to how they are perceived in real life, museums need to supplement the meanings of Saussurean classifications with supportive interpretations. Based on this framework, a series of classification principles and their satellite communication channels (labels, exhibition elements, etc.) will then be examined. The research shall allow that while the nature of classification principles has changed over time, the overall interpretative approach of museums towards 'object signs' has also turned from Saussurean to Peircean, from providing 'one correct single meaning' to acknowledging 'multiple meanings given by multiple interpreters'. The main contributions of this study are: 1. identify the importance of classification principles in museum interpretation/communication and render a theoretical account of meaning-formation for 'object signs' in organised collections. 2. give a historical review of how 'objects signs' have been interpreted by Western museums for future reference. 3. use Peirce's semiotics to offer a new perspective so that topics of 'what interpretations are given to the objects', 'how the interpretations conveyed', and 'who are the interpreters', can be inspected in an integrated fashion.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available