Authenticity in Authors’ House Museums

Samet Çevik (Bandirma Onyedi Eylül Üniversity, Türkiye)

Literary sites contain provable information, yet personal interpretations and the influence of cultural heritage also shape them. Literary locations serve as a storehouse of historical authenticity and a collection of creative portrayals of various settings or objects (Spooner, 2014). Authenticity is one of the most significant factors for authors’ house museums, which are considered one of the key products of literary tourism. Authentication is “a process by which something—a role, product, site, object, or event—is confirmed as original, genuine, real, or trustworthy” (Cohen & Cohen, 2012: 1296). In authors’ houses, authenticity is primarily based on the idea that the object in question had a direct connection or coexistence with the author it represents. Authentic objects in these places are typically those that have been attributed as having a direct association with the author and their lifetime. These objects have managed to maintain a sense of integrity, so even if they have undergone modifications or alterations, their essential qualities remain intact. They are also irreplaceable and hold significant historical value (Hunter, 2015). An author’s house which encompasses items such as the author’s writing desk, chair, typewriter, pen, manuscripts, letters, various documents, clothing, personal belongings, or symbolic artefacts associated with the author’s life and art, provides literary tourists with the opportunity to feel a profound sense of proximity and connection to the author. It enables them to vividly imagine the author in their home and working environment, while also evoking a sense of nostalgia.

The concept of authenticity in tourism can be divided into two distinct aspects: the authenticity of tourist experiences, also known as authentic experiences, and the authenticity of the objects or attractions being visited (Wang, 1999: 351). Furthermore, Wang suggested three categories of authenticity in the field of tourism: objective authenticity, constructive authenticity, and existential authenticity. Objective authenticity refers to utilising the original artefacts within a museum setting, where tourists perceive these objects as they are and recognise their authenticity. As a result, the authentic experience is derived from the acknowledgement of these toured objects as being truly authentic. There is a definitive and objective criterion employed to evaluate authenticity. Constructive authenticity, on the other hand, is the revision of objective authenticity through interpretation. According to Wang, objects or experiences do not possess inherent authenticity; rather, their perceived authenticity is a result of construction based on points of view, beliefs, perspectives, or influences. Existential authenticity emerges as a distinctive source of genuine experiences in tourism. It encompasses personal or intersubjective emotions that are evoked by the liminal process of tourist activities. Individuals feel a heightened sense of authenticity and self-expression compared to their everyday lives. However, this feeling is not rooted in the authenticity of the visited objects but rather in the engagement with extraordinary activities. Thus, existential authenticity signifies a potential state of being that can be actualised through tourist experiences.

The perception of authenticity in authors’ houses is subjective and influenced by a blend of developers’ aims, tourists’ interpretations, and interactions (Herbert, 2001). It is partially shaped by personal commitments, bureaucracy, and economic necessities the place managers face (Fawcett & Cormack, 2001). Thus, authenticity largely depends on the policies and decisions embraced by place managers and should be considered in conjunction with the concept of interpretation. Each literary site, based on its primary goals and the intended message for literary tourists, while also considering the characteristics of potential visitors, makes interpretation and exhibition decisions and effectively communicates the story behind what is displayed using various interpretive tools. Hunter (2015), who emphasises the relationship between authenticity and interpretation, discusses three different tendencies that can influence a literary tourist’s perception of authenticity in an author’s house. The first is verbal tools such as guides, staff, curators, and audio guides. The second includes written tools such as guidebooks, signs, panels, and labels. The third tendency encompasses contextual tools such as display cases, pedestals, spotlights, roped barriers, alarms, and monitors. Verbal and textual tools are among the most effective ways to create a sense of authenticity for literary tourists who seek an authentic experience, making them feel that what they encounter is real.

The impact of these tools on creating an authentic experience in authors’ house museums highlights the crucial role of providing information as an essential component of interpretation. In authors’ houses, it is essential to complement objects that serve as tangible indicators of the author’s biography with detailed and engaging information in various language options. This holds particular significance, as Stiebel (2004) pointed out, for literary tourists who doubt authenticity and expect evidence. Utilising personal interpretation tools in these explanations also signifies the “cool” authentication process. The act of “cool” authentication, usually carried out through a singular, explicit, and often formal or official performative act (such as a speech), serves to declare the originality, genuineness, and authenticity of an object, site, event, custom, role, or person, emphasising its distinction from any copies, fakes, or dubious representations (Cohen & Cohen, 2012). The rarely encountered yet most typical example is when, in authors’ houses, if they are still alive, the authors themselves or their close relatives, such as spouse, daughter, or son, guide visitors in the museum. Furthermore, guided tours conducted in authors’ houses can be encompassed within this context. Baleiro (2023) concluded that guided tours and their narratives play a crucial role as a determinant in the experience of a literary museum, enabling the understanding and engagement with the museum, the house, the author, and the historical context.

Literary places make their interpretive decisions based on the adopted interpretation forms. Fawcett and Cormack (2001) identified three approaches to interpretation: the modernist, rationalist, and eclectic. The modernist approach is particularly favoured in authors' houses due to its characteristic of leaving no room for ambiguity. This approach emphasises authenticity and nostalgia while also embracing simplicity and elegance. These places make interpretation decisions based on the objective authenticity and constructive authenticity principles proposed by Wang (1999) to emphasise authenticity and nostalgia. It is anticipated that literary tourists will have positive, authentic experiences in authors’ house museums where objective authenticity is prevalent, as these places exhibit genuine belongings of the author.

However, Baleiro (2023) pointed out that positive, authentic experiences can be derived from original items and replicas of objects and recreated rooms. The decoration of the rooms may not be the same as they were during the author's period, or the objects may not be original. In these places where constructive authenticity prevails, negative experiences will likely be avoided when decisions are made to evoke the spirit of the place for the visitors. As an example, in the Aşiyan Museum located in Türkiye, which was the residence of Turkish poet Tevfik Fikret, due to some of the poet’s belongings are no longer present, to capture the spirit of the place, replicas of these items were created based on photographs taken by Tevfik Fikret himself. Additionally, efforts were made to restore the different sections of the house to their original state through research using the same photographs and books from that era (Çevik, 2022).

According to MacLeod (2021), the genius loci could be the fundamental aspect that literary tourists seek in authors’ houses, and three components of this concept – the domestic sphere, authors’ tools, and the spirit of the author – should be emphasised by managers of literary places in their interpretation decisions. For literary tourists to feel the spirit of the place and stimulate their imagination, authors’ house museums should allow them to explore authentic objects and, if necessary, replicas.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Çevik, S. (2023). Authenticity in Authors’ House Museums. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

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