Thesis abstract ‘The Bloke Museum: Motor Museums and Their Visitors’

17th November 2013

Rob Pilgrim

 PhD, Department of Archaeology, Flinders University, Adelaide, August 2004

Motor vehicles have been on the roads of Western nations for over a century and in that time they have changed the world in which they operate to the point that today’s society could not exist in its current form without them. The motor vehicle has altered daily life beyond the comprehension of those who lived in the pre-automobile age. In that same 100 years, museums too have changed radically in the way in which they collect, interpret and exhibit objects. They have gone from being places of private pleasure for a select few to being places of public recreation and education.

The development of the museum has paralleled the rise of the automobile. The first motor museum came into existence in 1912, less than two decades after the advent of the motor vehicle and, since that first emergence, motor museum numbers have fluctuated, but generally increased. With the centenary of the coming of the motor car, however, there has been a sudden increase in the number of motor museums in existence. Although there is no central register or list of motor museums, and many museums are private entities that are publicised by word of mouth, there are probably well over a thousand in the Western world.

This thesis uses the National Motor Museum at Birdwood in South Australia as a lens through which to examine motor museums generally through a face to face survey of visitors to that museum. The aim of that survey was to ascertain what it is that visitors expect from their visit. A further postal survey of motor museums in English speaking countries, examines what staff in those museums see to be the aims of the visitor and also the way in which the museums strive to meet those aims. As essential elements of the thesis, the nature of car collecting and how this influences the vehicles collected by, and exhibited by, the motor museum; as well as how those collected vehicles are interpreted, are examined. In addition, the way in which collection policies and goals vary from museum to museum is addressed. The desire of many visitors to see ‘the real thing’, the authentic vehicle, is also considered as is the status and use of simulacra and replicas in the motor museum. The ambition of many museums, in response to that perceived visitor objective, to fill the exhibition halls with numbers of vehicles that have been restored, to a point beyond their original, as manufactured condition is also evaluated. The nostalgic goals of many visitors, as well as the ways in which the museums strive to meet those goals is assessed. Finally the thesis examines the intersection of the gendered object, the automobile, and the gendered space, the museum, examining the ways in which the female motoring experience is interpreted in the motor museum and suggesting ways in which motor museums might change to better include visitors of all types.

Pilgrim, R.
Thesis abstract 'The Bloke Museum: Motor Museums and Their Visitors'
Thesis Abstracts
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