Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Trash or Treasure? Te Papa and the collecting on everyday material culture

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Version 2 2023-09-26, 23:56
Version 1 2021-11-22, 16:21
posted on 2023-09-26, 23:56 authored by Hackett, Amy

The everyday, ordinary, and mundane are categories of material culture that challenge traditional museum collecting. Collection planning is an absolute necessity for museums if they are to avoid becoming unmanageable time capsules. With cuts to resources and space now at a premium, it is important that museums clarify their purpose and begin to collect more strategically. This dissertation asks: if collecting everyday material culture is now an accepted part of curatorial practice today, then how does Te Papa approach this fraught task? How does the museum define the everyday, how much of it already exists in the museum’s collections, and what tools and strategies does it deploy to ensure that these objects are collected and appreciated as part of the nation’s history and heritage?   Using a multi-method approach comprising document analysis, interviews and observation, this dissertation provides insight into how Te Papa collects everyday material culture. It provides an in-depth view of the national museum’s current collecting processes, all the way from how it collects on paper, to how it collects in reality. The research addresses gaps in literature on institutional collecting, particularly in a national museum setting. Building on work by James B Gardner and Simon Knell, and by observing and interviewing curators, this study is able to respond to calls for research that approaches collecting from an internal ‘on-the-ground’ viewpoint.  Trash or Treasure? reveals that at Te Papa, although everyday material culture is being collected and displayed, it exists at a crossroads of traditional and contemporary conceptions of collecting. Policy enables collecting of these everyday objects provided acquisition proposals demonstrate national significance. However, curators are less concerned with this aspect of an object. This discrepancy occurs because of the challenging nature of everyday material culture, namely its mutability; it can be all things to many people. The findings suggest that policy does not always trump practice unless strict approval processes are put in place. In order to build a strong collection, this dissertation argues that museums need to find a balance between careful planning while also allowing space for unexpected collecting opportunities.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


McCarthy, Conal; Ross, Kirstie