chapter  12
Finding Self in Objects: Identity Exploration in Museums
WithScott G. Paris, Melissa J. Mercer
Pages 23

How do museum visitors understand the objects they encounter? The diverse and complex answers to this question are embedded in larger issues about epistemology, learning, museum education, material culture, and human development. A traditional answer to the question characterized visitors as apprehending information about the objects by careful viewing, discussions with others, and reading labels. Passive reception and registration of information was predominant in this reactive model. More recent views of the experience focus on the active construction of meaning by visitors depending on their prior knowledge, interests, and social situation. This interactive model emphasizes how visitors’ unique interpretations result from the interactions of their physical, personal, and social contexts (e.g., Falk & Dierking, 1992). These two models reflect traditional approaches in learning theories derived from psychology and education.