Significance of objects

Below are the different criteria for describing the significance of the object. Significance is used to help determine the impact the conservation service would have on the preservation and understanding of the Canadian collection and the benefit it would have to the client.

Primary significance criteria

  • Historic — "An object or collection may be historically significant for its association with people, events, places and themes."
  • Aesthetic or artistic — "An object may be aesthetically significant for its craftsmanship, style, technical excellence, beauty, demonstration of skill and quality of design and execution." An object may also be artistically significant because it was produced by an important artist or maker.
  • Scientific or research — "An object or collection may have research significance if it has major potential for further scientific examination or study… This criterion tends to apply chiefly to biological, geological and archaeological material, but can also apply to documentary collections."
  • Social or spiritual — "Objects have social significance if they are held in community esteem. This may be demonstrated by social, spiritual or cultural expressions that provide evidence of a community's strong affection for an object or collection, and of how it contributes to that community's identity and social cohesion."

Comparative significance criteria

  • Provenance — "Provenance means the chain of ownership and context of use of an object. Provenance is central to establishing historic and scientific significance."
  • Representativeness — "An object may be significant because it represents a particular category of object, or activity, way of life, or historical theme."
  • Rarity — "An object may be significant as a rare, unusual, or particularly fine example of its type."
  • Condition, intactness, and integrity — "An object may be significant because it is unusually complete, or in sound, original condition."
  • Interpretive potential — "Objects and collections may be significant for their capacity to interpret and demonstrate aspects of experience, historical themes, people and activities… To some extent, interpretive potential represents the value or utility the object has for a museum as a focus for interpretive or educational programs."

Adopted from: Significance: A Guide to Assessing the Significance of Cultural Objects and Collections by Roslyn Russell and Kylie Winkworth (Canberra, Australia: Heritage Collections Council, 2001).

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