When does an object become an artifact? Why is it more interesting
and informative to look at real things in a museum rather than
looking at pictures of them? What’s so special about an artifact?
Why do museums collect? These are all important questions, especially
for the people who do the collecting in museums. These people are
A curator is a specialist educated and trained to understand
objects (what they are, how they work, what they mean) and their
history (who made them, who owned them, who used them). The name
for this type of study is “material culture” or “material history.”
Curators develop their knowledge through reading, research and,
above all, by carefully examining hundreds of objects.
When a curator decides to acquire an object for the collection,
that object becomes an artifact. This happens officially when the
object is given an acquisition number by the museum and when all the
available information about the object is gathered together and
carefully recorded under that number. So what do curators look for
when they collect objects, and how do they decide what’s really
important and what isn’t?