Replicas are also ‘the real thing’ say researchers

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Heritage specialists at the University of Stirling are calling on those who create, use and care for replicas to rethink their approaches after launching a new website to promote recognition of their authenticity, value and significance.

New Future for Replicas, co-produced by an international team of experts led by Stirling’s Dr Sally Foster and Professor Siân Jones, offers innovative guidance encouraging professionals, institutions, museums and heritage sites to place new value on physical replicas, whether copies of monuments or artefacts.

Dr Foster, of Stirling’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, said: “Replicas of historic objects are widely used in heritage sites and museums, often in response to challenges around the original – such as damage, destruction, or restitution. But, their significance and the underlying stories of human creativity, skill, and craftsmanship which go into creating replicas, are often ignored because they are viewed as mere surrogates for the missing ‘original’.”

The website’s launch follows the publication of book: My Life as a Replica: St John’s Cross, Iona authored by Dr Foster with Prof Jones.

The publication explores the meanings and values of one of Scotland’s best-known historic monuments and its 1970 concrete replica. Challenging traditional ideas about the perceived authenticity of replicas, it raises the question of how other replicas around the world are to be valued and treated.

Dr Foster said: “Replicas and originals often sit between places, collections and sectors, and are subject to inconsistent, different and divergent practices, which may include inertia and invisibility.

“Informed by our new thinking about authenticity and the value of replicas, the newly published guidance seeks to change this and aims to support and encourage heritage and museum professionals, and others, to think more imaginatively about the future of their replicas.”

The website outlines key principles, with guidance in five areas: understanding of value, knowledge and understanding, securing for the future, wider public benefit and creating new replicas.

Dr Foster added: “If we ignore or lose replicas, or do not adopt new practices in relation to the creation of new replicas, we will fail to release the potential they embody, to challenge our notions of authenticity and value, to interrogate our heritage and museum practices, and to acknowledge underappreciated human skills, crafts, passions and ways of seeing the world.”

Gillian Findlay, Interim Head of Museums & Collections, Culture Perth & Kinross said: “New Futures for Replicas necessitates an urgent re-calibration of how replicas are considered by museums and presents exciting directions for research, engagement and interpretation of these objects.

“The guidance is also an invaluable toolkit for enabling museums to apply a much-needed consistency of care to objects which often span diverse collections and disciplines.”

New Futures for Replicas: Principles and Guidance for Museums and Heritage was developed through a series of workshops organised with the support of National Museums Scotland, ICOMOS UK and the Scottish Graduate School of the Arts and Humanities’ Heritage Hub.