Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Museum Professions


Communication and the Arts


Martha Easton, Ph.D


deaccessioning, new jersey, museums, small museums, history museums, collections


Deaccessioning is a frequent topic of conversation in even small and mid-sized museums in the twenty-first century. With collections costs soaring, budgets dwindling, and space ever more limited, museums must deaccession to survive and prosper. However, deaccessioning and disposal have become hugely controversial, both among museum professionals and with the general public in the past few decades. Scholars like Stephen Weil and Marie Malaro argue that deaccessioning and disposal were non-issues prior to the 1970s. Is this true? If so, how did museum professionals handle deaccessioning and disposal of objects from their collections before this time?

This thesis explores the long history of deaccessioning in American museums prior to the controversies of the 1970s using examples from the published literature as well as a case study of pre-1970s deaccessioning campaigns at the Passaic County Historical Society in New Jersey. This mid-sized historical society adapted an evolving set of norms and values surrounding museum disposal to their own unique needs in the early twentieth century, long before governments and professional associations mandated compliance to specific sets of standards. I argue that small museum workers today should learn to view deaccessioning as part of a much longer tradition of disposal practices that dates back over a century, and that they should research and use this history in their own institutions to help justify future deaccessioning campaigns.