Dr Chiara Zuanni

Mediating the Past: Museums and Public Perceptions of Archaeology

This thesis is an investigation of the relationships between museums and public perceptions of archaeology. The investigation, informed by de Certeau’s theory of practices, uses a qualitative methodology and draws on the case study of the Manchester Museum. The analysis of the research data informs a discussion of the role and impact of public perceptions of the past on the construction of institutional and professional identities within a changing museum practice, and on visitors’ experiences and meaning-making processes in museums.

The thesis highlights that the Manchester Museum has thrived, throughout its history, in negotiating its twofold identity as a university museum and a civic museum. Meanwhile, professional identities of its staff are challenged by the need of balancing both professional expertise and public engagement in their practices. In turn, the visitor study discusses how popular representations of the past influence the itineraries, meaning-making, and evaluation processes during the museum visit. Furthermore, the case of the viral video of the spinning statuette has offered rich data on how public perceptions of the past and museums both feed and are further enhanced by a media event that captures public and media imagination on a global scale. Finally, the thesis considers how ethical questions, academic research, and popular representations can overlap by observing the case of the Egyptian mummies.


I graduated in Classics at the University of Bologna (2005-2008), with a dissertation in Christian Archaeology. During my Master degree in Archaeology (also at the University of Bologna, 2008-2010), I did a three-months internship at the Dom- und Diozesaneum Museum in Trier, Germany, funded by an Erasmus Placement bursary. This is where I got interested in Museum Studies. 

In 2009 I volunteered for the first time with the International Festival of Archaeological Film (Rassegna Internazionale del Cinema Archeologico – organised by the Rovereto Civic Museum) and I also developed an interest for archaeological communication.

Therefore, I did my Master dissertation in Archaeological Museology with a thesis proposing a new exhibition for the archaeological collections of Trento (Italy) and, in 2011, I volunteered again with the International Festival of Archaeological Film, working on translations and on the preparation of short presentations for the press of some documentaries.


  • The earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity in Kazakhstan in G. Bonora, N. Pianciola, P. Sartori (eds.), Kazakhstan. Religions and Society in the History of Central Eurasia, Allemandi, Torino 2009, pp. 67-79.

Contact details

Email: chiara.zuanni@gmail.com

Chiara's Academia.edu page