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Title: How Damage Alters Meaning : An Analysis of the Conservation and Display of War-Damaged Objects in War Museums
Author: Evans, Helen
ISNI:       0000 0004 2671 4933
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2008
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War museums address many of the most controversial aspects of human history, some of which have the potential to be viewed as contradictory, such as: the representation of both the horrors of war and the heroics of soldiering; addressing the darkest aspects of humanity in a context of enlightenment and learning; and - most importantly for this work - depicting loss through the physical presence of material objects. By examining, in-depth, a small selection of war-damaged objects this research explores how some owner institutions have approached the conservation and display of these items and the impact their choices have had on meaning and viewer interpretation. The effectiveness of these treatment and display approaches is evaluated and the potential implications of these methods for the significance and understanding of war-damaged objects in general are examined. This research shows that societal perceptions of war directly influence the way museums conserve and display war-damaged objects. It demonstrates people's belief that individual, war-damaged objects eloquently express the horrors of war. Our inability to grasp the sheer scale of war means that we are best able to understand its devastating effects on an individual level; viewers project their empathy onto war-damaged objects, as condition is seen to mirror that of the victims of war. Personal items are the most effective trigger for this empathic reaction, which is why war-damaged objects of this type are seldom restored. This in turn has negated the perceived importance of war-damage to nonpersonal items. It is concluded that the symbolic associations attributed to war-damaged personal items have sometimes clouded the judgment of museum professionals and resulted in a failure to properly address the long-term preservation needs of the object. Conversely, the devaluing of the importance of war-damage to non-personal items has sometimes resulted in unsympathetic, interventive conservation
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available