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Title: Secular relics : narrative objects and material biography in the museums of Darwin, Elgar & Holmes
Author: Morris, Caroline
ISNI:       0000 0004 6062 4827
Awarding Body: University of the West of England
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis investigates objects considered to be significant through their association with historically noteworthy persons and how these objects are displayed. Such objects and their related cultural practices are regularly compared to relics. However, this has not been tested in the existing literature on the subject. If these objects and their display are analogous to relic practice how can this be explained in the modern museum? If this analogy holds then the presence of the biographical object in modern museum display is anomalous. Are they simply anachronisms, or can they be understood in terms of the period from which their modern display emerged? These objects and their display are indicative of a particular relationship to material culture and to the figures with which they are associated, that has persisted into the twenty-first century. This thesis considers these objects and their display as a cultural practice. It establishes their historical context and interrogates the relic analogy. It focuses on the objects and museums of a scientist (Charles Darwin), a composer (Edward Elgar) and a fictional detective (Sherlock Holmes) rather than the literary subjects which dominate existing literature. The narrative objects in these museums tell stories of their association with their subject through their display, in doing so they become a material form of biography. The particularities of objects, subject, display and location observed in these biographical museums provides the material through which to question the whole phenomenon. This thesis argues that the construction and communication of these objects’ association with their subject, by their museums, can encourage the perception of their relic-like connection with a particular past. The museum visually narrates and authenticates its objects, apparently preserving the traces of their subject’s life. In turn, this simulates the subject’s presence encouraging empathetic engagement with the subject and their objects. This enables the objects in the biographical museum to be viewed as both relic-like and as products of modernity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available