The Crypto-Museum: Investigating the impact of blockchain and NFTs on digital ownership, authority, and authenticity in museums

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores to what extent blockchain technology and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) impact, challenge, or support the themes of collaboration and partnership, ideas that cut across current discussions and practices of digital ownership, authority, and authenticity in museums. In doing so, this thesis considers how this technology might produce values that go beyond the monetary and are instead more social and community driven. These questions are explored through John Chapman's (2000) archaeological theory on fragmentation and enchainment, which proposes that found artefacts in Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Copper Age sites were purposely broken as a way to symbolise a binding social contract between the parties involved. Through a collaborative doctoral research project with the National Museums Liverpool (NML), the thesis develops this theory to consider if blockchain can contribute to a process of digital fragmenting and enchainment in museums. It explores how the technology might forge new connections between the museum, the collection, and audiences by binding personalised experiences about NML objects to NFT versions of these objects. In doing so, the work also critically analyses how NFTs might embody different perspectives of a particular object and function as a personal and ownable edition of the digital collection. This thesis argues that the process of creating NFTs from a museum's collection is a process of pseudo fragmenting the work which simulates the effects of ownership and authenticity. The simulated effect of these conditions provides the owner with control over their token because it can be exchanged or traded, which challenges traditional institutional authority over its digital collections. This also has the potential to forge a new relation between the participant and the museum that can be understood as shared guardianship or a feeling of enchainment. In turn, this thesis proposes that this can create social value for museums. However, ultimately, building enchainment is contingent on a triad of relations between the technology, the museum, and the participant, whereby these different aspects interact with each other to produce value in the digital object
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKostas Arvanitis (Supervisor) & Guyda Armstrong (Supervisor)


  • Social Value
  • Museum
  • Authenticity
  • NFTs
  • Ownership
  • Blockchain
  • Authority

Cite this