Are national museums prepared for Creative Europe?

Creativity and diversity, these two buzzwords are at the heart of the new EU programme dedicated to the cultural and creative sectors,  and proposed by the European Commission on 23 November 2011. During the next year the proposal Creative Europe, will be discussed among the Council of EU Ministers and the European Parliament before its possible realisation. It is an important programme as it is connected to the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020, and thus decides the roles for culture for a considerable time frame. The new programme differs from its forerunners due to the fact that it joins the previously separated areas media and culture. Digitalisation and the increased role of the cultural and creative sectors of the European economy are bringing the two areas together.

When Vladimír Šucha introduced the programme to the cultural sector in Sweden the message was that the economy alone cannot bring together the European member states. Culture was introduced as the way forward out of the monetary crisis at an event significantly coloured by the fact that in Brussels the leaders of the European member states discussed how to solve the crises for the single currency and how to keep trust among the member states. Šucha, who is the Director for Culture, Multilingualism and Communication, at the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission, stressed that culture cannot be a mere decoration. Rather, the sector is an economic asset to be used in education as well as in social and industrial innovation.

View photostream from the event Europaprojektets framtid organised by Intercult et al.

A European take on Cosmopolitanism                                                                         With its focus on developing capacities among artists and cultural professionals to work across borders and financial instruments to support transnational cultural activities of small companies within and outside of the EU, the programme could be seen as expression of a European take on Cosmopolitanism. Šucha himself warned for locking culture in regional and national boxes. His arguments on extended transnational collaboration were further radicalized by Chris Torch, one of the moderators at the event and in the context of European cultural policy a well-known proponent of cultural diversity and multicultural mélange also within nations.

National Museum initiatives                                                                                                                                                  But where does this suggested step towards increased economically based cosmopolitanism, which is now complementing EU:s motto “united in difference”, leave national museums, established markers of national identities? As a matter of fact, museums are already building capacities for creativity, innovation and transnational collaboration. NEMO, the Network of European Museum Organisations, provides a database with links to projects on Innovation and Creativity in Museums, Intercultural Dialogue and lifelong learning in museums, and Digitisation in European Museums. Transnational collaboration is also built into the topic of collection mobility, which has been on the agenda for about ten years now. This topic has generated working groups, guidelines and an impressive volume with editors from several European museums. Another forward-looking project is LEM, the learning museums network project. The LEM project has 23 partners from 17 European countries and the US. It is funded under the EU Lifelong Learning Programme Grundtvig. The Mobility Scheme is one of many activities this network coordinates. Five of the LEM partners have agreed to host colleagues for job-shadowing or study visits.

It is clear that museum networks as well as the European Union already have acted in the directions proposed in the new Creative Europe Programme. The question is though if the new programme relates to museums at all with its emphasis on access to finance for small under-capitalised enterprises. EuNaMus will closely follow the discussions on the reception of the Creative Europe Programme and return to the subject in 2012.

Bodil Axelsson

Posted in Cultural policy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More on great historical narratives in Europe’s national museums

José María Lanzarote Guiral reports from the second international conference on “Great historical narratives in Europe’s national museums”, held in the Louvre and Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris from the 25th to the 26 of November.

As at the previous conference in June , a selection of speakers coming from all over Europe and beyond gathered in Paris to debate on key issues for the development of Eunamus research strand “Uses of the Past, narrating the nation and negotiating conflict”.

One major question, “To what extent can national museums be considered as authors of great historical narratives?” had enticed more than 25 researchers and museum professionals to respond the call.  Papers in both English and French spanned from the Prado to the British Museum and from the Sami National Museum in Norway to the new Acropolis Museum in Greece.  Some of the most relevant European museums were analysed from different perspectives; several papers discussed the ways in which museums  historically have formed collections or reinterpreted existing ones in order to construct national master narratives. Other papers highlighted how museums strive to respond to the questions posed by increasingly transnational European societies.

The discussions were started by presentations given by keynote speakers. María Bolaños opened the first session with an overview of the creation of national museums in Spain. A long-term historical perspective was also chosen by Ellinoor Bergvelt to analyse the history of Dutch national museums. Finally, the extra-European dimension was considered in the opening of the third session by Alexandra Loumpet-Galitzine, who discussed the creation of national museums in several French-speaking African countries.

Narratives supporting the 19th century nationmaking                                                                                                                                         The visualisation of the national narrative in museums promoted by the 19th century nation-state in formation was analysed by Eugenia Afinoguenova on the Prado Museum, Miklós Székely on the Hungarian National Museum, and Aleksandar Ignatović on the National Museum of Belgrade in this case in the Interwar Period.

Diachronic studies of museums                                                                                                 Diachronic studies were provided by Frank Matthias Kammel on the evolution of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Amy Clarke on the transformation of the Royal Museum of Scotland to National Museum, or by Gabor Ébli, who analysed, from a comparative perspective, the making of national galleries in Central and Eastern Europe. Adding new elements to the debate, Costanze Breuer reflected on the intersecting of the national and the great men narrative while considering Goethe’s House in Weimar.

Controlled museum spaces                                                                                                        Some other presentations discussed the relationship between museum creation and display in regimes marked by strong ideological control, such as Melania Savino on the archaeological Museums in the Turkish Republic or Gabriella Petkova-Campbell on the impact of communism in Bulgarian national museums.

The nation’s accomplishments                                                                                                 The role of the museum in visualising the accomplishments of the nation was the topic of Annie Malama, on the Greek Museum of Modern art, or Cristina Ntaflou’s on the newly opened Museum of the Acropolis.

Challenges of postmodernity and contested authority                                             How museums deal with the challenges of the postmodernity was the subject of the presentations by Tiffany Jenkins on “inverting the nation” at the British museum, Martin Sundberg on Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, and Pascale Meyer on the Swiss National Museum in Zurich. Contested authority related to anthropological artefacts was a key issue in several presentations, such as the one by Hilde Nielssen and Sigrid Lien on the Sami National Museum in Norway or the one by Leila Koivunen on the National Museum of Finland. In a different key, Maria Anna Bertolino considered local museums of ethnography in Northern Italy.

Considering also temporary exhibitions                                                                            Not only national museums but also the visualisation of master narratives in national and international exhibitions were discussed by some speakers, such as for instance Giovanni Arena, who reflected on the 1941 colonial exhibition organised by the Fascist regime in Naples, and Michela Passini’s on the Jeu de Paume exhibitions in Paris during the Interwar Period. In turn, Nathalie Cerezales reflected on the subtle interplay of the religious and the aesthetic message in the exhibitions of sacred art in the 1990s in Spain.

Finally, some other topics related to the means of displaying and protecting collections in the national museums were considered, for instance, by Sylvain Cordier, who spoke on the role of furniture in the Museum of French History created by King Louis Phillipe in Versailles, or Arnaud Bertinet on the safekeeping of French works of art during French-Prussian War in 1873. In the last presentation, Caroline Caillet dealt with the negotiations for restitution of artworks between Alger and France after the decolonisation, opening the debate on heritage restitution that will be pursued further in the next conference, in Brussels in January 26-27th.

Eunamus’ partner University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, led by Prof. Dominique Poulot, organised the conference.

Posted in Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Great historical narratives in Europe’s national museums II

This conference expands the knowledge on the ways in which museums adapt their explicit narratives to changing social and political situations. It is organised by Dominique Poulot and Felicity Bodenstein and takes place in Paris 25-26 November, as this post is published. On the conference, a row of papers explore the ways in which narratives in national museums link to ruling monarchs, state ideologies, or (post)colonial relations. Several papers highlight the ways in which museums alter collections, or reinterpret existing collections, to modify their messages, when political regimes changes. Other papers highlight how museums adjust to more subtle changes in public opinions, in ways of for example handling imperial pasts.

Read all the abstracts here and the full programme here.

Posted in Research | Leave a comment

National museums of Australia

Peter Aronsson

Where is it? Laurajane Smith and Kylie Message, Australia National University, are the best guides you could imagine for an understanding of the dynamics of the Australian National Museum since it opened in 2001. They make me understand how central and adjustable the exhibitions are to changes in contemporary politics. The short history of the museum shows shadows of the History Wars of Australia. Exhibitions moves from focusing people and stories to objects, territory and chronology. Colonialism becomes hidden in general migration.
It is Remembrance Day 11 November, and at 11 trumpets sounds and a silent minute is held for the sacrifice of war. The war memorial placed in line with both the old and the new parliament create an axis of memory and politics like the Mall in Washington, flanked by National Gallery, National Library, the High Court. At the War memorial the names of the fallen soldiers are honored and the statement that Australia was borne on the shores of Gallipoli is transferred to new generations. A new heritage is constituted by the Old parliament that turned into a museum of democracy and the site of the Aboriginal protest tent camp from the 1970’s that now is protected as a heritage site. Altogether this forms a functional national museum that goes beyond the ANM, contextualize it, and highlights its political location.
However you need a car to experience this in its totality, and perhaps a few more hours than I had to fully appreciate its complexity. It is a heritage alive – and today Barack Obama will pay his respect at the War Memorial and make his contribution to the history wars where pride over white achievements balance with regrets for atrocities against the Aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Cultural policy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Balkan history – facilitating dialogues on conflicting pasts – blogpost by Peter Aronsson

Anthony Krause at the UNESCO office of Venice has called on national history museums in South East Europe to work together on a traveling exhibition. Museum leaders from 12 countries met for the third time in Torino 5-6 October for the workshop History, memory and dialogue in South-East Europe: Exploring the Identity of Nations.

Four independent experts was called to comment on a proposal for the exhibition and give advice from various perspectives. Experienced leader from Deutsches Historisches Museum gave advice on how to negotiate collaboration, ICOM executives provided important input on the various steps and sequence best suited to process the proposal, the leader of history educations in Council of Europe gave input on how to frame the uses of history to comply with contemporary international standards.  I was invited as the coordinator of Eunamus and I used the project’s comparative perspectives to give models for how different conflicts have been treated by national museums in the World, what tools are accessible, and what can be learned by these earlier experiences.

The choice of the group is not to deal directly with the recent past but to find a common ground in the Ottoman past of the long nineteenth century. This was at the same time birthplace of modernity and national movements that frame later generations struggle to organize their life and society. Goals, target groups, themes to work with was discussed, and a first venue was set for Slovenia, where the next working meeting will take place in Ljubljana.

The undertaking is very important as one part of building a new future through dealing with the past on the Balkan. There are several initiatives already at play on the Balkans, but non that involves so many central museum partners with concrete collaboration. The possibility for Eunamus to feed into this contemporary practice and use the knowledge from the project to be part of producing quality in a traveling exhibition is an exciting invitation and experience with potential importance to make a difference for future progressive interaction of museums in the making of nations and states in the area.

The meeting took place in Torino to get inspiration of the Italian commemoration of its existence as a state in 150 years. The celebrations are of course framed by exhibitions. The new opening of the Risorgimento museum of the first capital in Italy (1861-1865), a very popular national temporary exhibition, The Making of Italians, show different modes of museography.

Posted in Cultural policy, General | Leave a comment

Museum beyond the nation – report from a conference session

The last two years archaeologist Johan Hegardt has been working on a project on the history of the Swedish National Historical Museum with Patrik Nordström, Fredrik Svanberg and Malin Grundberg.

In this blog he reports from the session, “Museum beyond the nation”,  he and his colleagues organised at Places, people, stories an interdisciplinary & international conference. Linnaeus University, Kalmar 28-30 September 2011.

By Johan Hegardt

A museum is a place where stories and people meet. A museum is also very much an interdisciplinary and international spot, even though, according to my view, many national museums have problems accepting this. The idea of this session was to discuss museums in a setting beyond the nation or the national, or looking into museums that have found themselves locked inside the nation. To broaden the Swedish perspective, Dr Kylie Message from The Australian National University in Canberra, Professor Dan Karlholm from Södertörn University in Stockholm and Sir David Wilson from the UK were invited to join researchers from the National Historical Museum.

The first three papers discussed the politics of museum spaces. The first speaker was Fredrik Svanberg with the paper ”From Collecting the Nation to Collecting the Cosmopolitan”, in which he discussed the ways in which the National Historical Museum’s structures of collecting nationalises objects found in Swedish soil, but once made somewhere else.

Kylie Message’s paper ”Museums, Topicality, and Collecting Today ‘For Tomorrow’” focused ”on the controversies that arose in the 1960s from the attempts of curators at the National Museum of American History to collect controversial contemporary materials that reflected current-day socio-political change and debate”.

In her paper ”The National Historical Museum in Stockholm from a gender perspective”, Malin Grundberg investigated how many of the museum’s temporary exhibitions had women or femininity as explicit themes. Only 4% of the 300 temporary exhibitions have been on women. Thus, at the National Historical Museum, “the history of Sweden has been the history of men”.

Two papers addressed museum architecture. Mattias Ekman’s paper ”An Edifice of Stories. Personal, Professional, and National Remembering in the National Gallery, Oslo” addressed ”the current use of the building as a spatial framework for the organising, retrieving and disseminating of memory”. An interview with author Gerd Brantenberg, whose relation to the gallery is marked by a significant childhood experience, and one with a senior curator at the gallery, Nils Messel, who structures knowledge of the institution with the help of the building, enables a distinction between personal and professional use of “the museum as a mnemonic instrument”.

In his paper ”The New Neues Museum in Berlin: Accumulating Concepts of History”,
Dan Karlholm situated ”the recently renovated and reconstructed Neues Museum within its unique place as one of five museums of art on the so-called Museumsinsel in Berlin. The whole ‘island’ was granted World Heritage status in 1999, but the Neues Museum was only re-inaugurated in 2009. Neues Museum has transformed into a layered artefact itself, with traces of several historical periods, each carefully preserved in accordance with the Venice Charter.” Karlholm discussed ”whether this museum represents a new type, premised on a new concept of history, compared to traditional, national, historicist as well as modernist or even postmodernist museums”.

Two papers considered the concept of national museums in territorial scales other than the nation. Zeljka Miklosevic explored in her paper ”From National to Regional Narratives” the concept of ecomuseums and its relationship to national museums stressing that ”such a development projected in the future might lead to the formation
throughout Europe of numerous museums of regions which could more genuinely create a sense of place through regional narratives, and thereby replace the domination the national museums have had for such a long time”.

In the last paper, ”The British Museum. Purpose and Politics, Past and Present”, former
head of The British Museum Sir David Wilson underlined that ”nobody knows where the name ‘British Museum’ came from. It emerged in 1753 as the name of an Act of Parliament. As a product of the Enlightenment, however, there was no attempt to identify it with the nation, rather it was seen in a universal context at a time when there was a firm belief in intellectual minds that the whole sum of human knowledge could be retrieved and presented in a systematic fashion to the thinking public. The museum embraced all human knowledge in this spirit.” From my point of view, it is interesting that ”this was to narrow ‘national’ museum is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that there was no British Gallery in the Museum until the middle of the nineteenth century, when throughout Europe such museums were springing to life with growing nationalism”.

The different papers provoked many questions and it was difficult, I admit, to stop the discussions even though time was running out. The seven papers will be published
early in 2012.

The project A historical museum and how it shaped Sweden is hosted by the National Historical Museum, Stockholm, and is financed by The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities and the Swedish Arts council. A generous grant from the Academy enabled all participants to travel to Kalmar. The project is interlinked with the EUNAMUS project, which is beneficial for our little group of researchers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rekindling the roles of national museums in Dublin and Belfast

Thomas Cauvin is doctorial researcher at the European University Institute and is affiliated to Eunamus’ partner in Paris. He contributes to Eunamus’ research on great historical narratives. He has been invited as a guest at Unfolding Eunamus to present two recent articles of his dealing with new roles for history, historians and national museums in Ireland and Northern Ireland during the 1990s.

National Museums, Historians and Reconciliation

by Thomas Cauvin

National museums have had, for a long time, purely occasional relations with academic historians. The island of Ireland is not an exception. For most of the twentieth century, neither the National Museum of Ireland (Dublin Republic of Ireland) nor the Ulster Museum (Belfast, Northern Ireland) collaborated with academic historians to arrange and display their historical collections. The situation changed radically in the 1980s and 1990s; the two national museums worked with historical advisers to stage commemorative exhibitions for the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne (1990) and the bicentenary of the 1798 Irish Rebellion (1998). These new collaborations resulted from the encounter between cultural and political demands – especially during the political context of reconciliation in Ireland and Northern Ireland – and historiographical redefinitions of the use of the past.

The Irish and Northern Irish politics of reconciliation promoted new roles for history, historians and national museums which were used as sites of dialogue and inclusive historical narratives. The new roles assigned to national museums – and the activity of the
historical advisers – contributed to changing the interpretations of the historical collections within the National Museum of Ireland and the Ulster Museum in the 1990s. This had also major consequence on the modes of representations. The displays were less and less object-oriented, focused more on historical interpretations and provided more information on the international context of the events exhibited. The balance between visual and written materials was also modified due to the wish of the historians.

The collaborations between the national museums and historians brought about new political uses of the past. The roles of historians working with governments are often criticized – as the French project for a House of French History demonstrates. Likewise, the historical advisers in the two Irish and Northern Irish national museums acted as bridges between culture and politics. In conclusion, the collaborations came from new political interests in the past and contributed to rekindle the roles of national museums.

The arguments proposed in this blog post come from two recent publications:

-Thomas Cauvin “Quando è in gioco la Public History: musei, storici e riconciliazione politica nella Repubblica d’Irlanda” in Memoria e Ricerca, vol. 37, 2011.

-Thomas Cauvin “Commemorating Historical Conflicts during the Peace Process: The
Bicentenary of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland and Northern Ireland”, in P. Fox and G. Pasternak (eds.) Visual Conflicts: On the Formation of Political Memory in the History of Art and Visual Cultures, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011, pp. 65-87.

Posted in Cultural policy, Research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Busy days

A lot of activities are going on in the Eunamus project in September. Report
seems to be the word of the month. First I would like to report, in the sense
of broadcasting, that we are planning two conferences. The first one will take
place in Paris 25-26 November and you find the call for papers here.

The second is due to 25-27 January and will take place in Brussels. It will include a public event with a panel dealing with reflections on the planning of new history museums. The overall subject of this conference is the narrative uses of the past in handling conflicts in national museums.

By the end of September we will publish our first online Open Access report edited by Peter Aronsson and Gabriella Elgenius:

Building National Museums in Europe 1750–2010. Conference proceedings from
EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and
the European Citizen, Bologna 28-30 April 2011
 (WP2) Report 1

In this case, to report means to communicate and make public all the knowledge the researchers within the project have produced on how the making of national museums in Europe relate to state making processes. Later this year, there will be a corresponding report with papers from the Paris workshop Great Historical Narratives in European Museums (1750-2010): Building Nations, Looking across Borders and Remembering the Past. Editors of this report are Dominique Poulot and Felicity Bodenstein.

We are also struggling with another aspect of reporting, that is to report in the sense of to account for. Eunamus is funded under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission. We are now half way through our three-year project and are asked to summarise our activities so far and account for our use of resources.

There are a few other instances of reporting going on in the project, but they will be announced later on.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National museums – audience experiences and identities

When I learned that Nordiska Museet* in Stockholm was among the museums that Alexandra Bounia  and Kristin Kuutma had included in Eunamus’ study on audience experiences and identities I was quite surprised. To me, the obvious choice in Sweden would have been Historiska Museet (the National Historical Museum). This museum shows archeological´findings and ecclesiastical objects from prehistory to the middle ages.
Currently they are showing a temporary exhibition on Swedish history with the aim to offer new perspectives on the exercising of societal power.** Nordiska Museet instead focuses on everyday culture and folk art. In my opinion, Nordiska Museet’s exhibitions tend to be aesthetically strong, whereas Historiska Museet deliberately struggles with how to deal with issues of national history and identity.

After spending several days working with the audience survey at Nordiska Museet, I find Nordiska Museet an equally good choice. Nordiska Museet does not explicitly deal with Swedish history, but it does overtly deal with Swedishness, for example by having “Swedish trends and traditions” as a kind of slogan on their website and on banners on the building. The museum also starts its audio guide, much used by foreign tourists, in front of its impressive statue of the king Gustav Vasa in the main hall, pointing out that he once was part of uniting Sweden in the 16th century.

Eunamus studies museum audiences by distributing a questionnaire to visitors at ten major museums in Europe and by focus groups in a selection of cities. We do not aim at capturing what visitors actually do at museums by observations or interviews. Instead the questionnaire asks visitors of their opinions. However, while conducting the survey, I could not help noticing that tourists enjoy taking photos of the statue of Gustav
Vasa, sometimes including themselves in the photo. Swedish visitors showed considerably
less interest in the statue. Curious about this interest in Gustav Vasa I asked my Estonian colleague on her opinion on the matter. According to her, the statue evoked interest because of its mix of grandeur and kitsch as it makes the former Swedish king look like Zeus, Tor or Buddha.

There have been a lot of methodological considerations preceding Eunamus’ audience survey, not only on how to pick museums, but also on how to do the sampling and on how to convert overarching research questions into, neither too simplified, nor too complex, survey questions. Having met and listened to people participating in the survey, I can tell that some people find the questions rather problematic or tricky to answer. Others find them interesting and stimulating for discussions on what is a national museum, on who should start them and what they should display.

Sometimes it was necessary to explain that our research program on national museums includes several different types of museums. Each state tends to have a set of museums dealing with different aspects of the nation, its past and relations to other nations, such as art museums, historical museums, ethnographical museums, maritime museums, museums of science and industry, museums of natural history, et cetera.

Eunamus’ visitor study will be presented at a conference in Athens in April 2012. The audience research will then be connected to our research on museum objects and narratives.  For example, Simon Knell from Leicester University is looking into Nordiska Museet’s displays.

Bodil Axelsson

*Nordiska Museet has no official English translation of their name. If there were one, it would be the Nordic Museum. Initially it aimed at displaying heritage from the Nordic or Scandinavian, region. See Magdalena Hillström’s article “Contested
Boundaries Nation, People and Cultural History Museums in Sweden and Norway

**Sheila Watson from Leicester University are currently writing on the ways in which Historiska Museet and other historical museums try to disconnect from ethnic nationalism.  Read more in Eunamus’ Newsletter #3 June 2011.

Posted in Research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Great historical narratives in European museums and political uses of history and memory

The setting of the conference evoked the spirit of Walter Benjamin

Museums have been casted as sites for the formulation of value. They act as political and moralizing institutions and struggle, and have struggled, with political influence and interference,  for a long period. At the same time, they are trusted societal institutions that communicate analytically and pedagogically as well as emotionally and aesthetically. They appeal to senses and feelings as well as to the intellect.

The above mentioned institutional traits were, in different ways, suggested in keynote speeches and paper presentations at an international workshop held at Université Paris 1 last week. The event was organized by Eunamus’ partner Dominique Poulot who in his opening speech recalled Walter Benjamin’ writings on collections, collectors and storytellers, reminding all participants that museums display visual encyclopedic ambitions as well as they allure to the historical imagination by telling stories.

Both Stephen Bann and Daniel J. Sherman touched upon the aesthetization of museum spaces in their keynotes. The former by showing the influence of private period rooms in museum displays, with special reference to Musée National du Moyen Age-Thermes de Cluny, founded in 1843 with the collections of the art collector and antiquarian Alexandre du Sommerard.

Colonial heritage as art at Musée du Quai Branly

In his talk, Daniel J. Sherman addressed two contemporary initiatives in Paris: La
Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration
(opened in 2007) and the Musée du Quai Branly (opened in 2006). Both museums were politically charged from the beginning and have sparked public controversies as well as critical discussions among museum scholars. Sherman argued that these museums celebrate contemporary cultural diversity by reinventing French universalism. They are spectacles, drawing more on discourses of modern and contemporary art than of analytic pedagogic knowledge and critical reasoning. The result is that France’s colonial past is silenced, at least in the exhibitions. The two museums’ dialogic and democratic ambitions are present in their public programs and not in their displays.

Daniel J. Sherman raised the question if the concept of cultural diversity is at all suited to provide a remedy for contemporary nation states’ difficulties to handle migration and troublesome colonial pasts. This question was addressed in Joachim Baur’s keynote too. Baur talked about the museualization of migration at three museums in the US, Canada and Australia. He showed how experiences of migration were used to build an inclusive national narrative and how visual displays performed unity in difference. He concluded that transnational stories re-vitalize the nation with the risk of masking social inequality.

One of the starting points in narrative theory is that the same series of events might
be plotted, that is recounted, differently depending of the context of the narrator. Highlighting some aspects of the past, often implies silencing others. For example, in her talk, Felicity Bodenstein suggested that Napoleon most often is presented as a man of great battles and reform. This version of the story silences the horrors of war experienced by foot soldiers and civilians. Sheila Watson made Historiska Museet in Stockholm into a convincing case of her thesis that museum spaces display national origins in complex and sometimes contradictory ways, and Johan Hegardt provided an overview of this museum’s exhibitions the last two decades.

Several papers addressed the ways in which shifting political contexts affect museums, the
things they put on display, and the stories they tell. Thomas Cauvain discussed the way increased EU contacts and funding, as well as increased tourism, affect how the Irish past is memorialized. He presented a case in which a museum curator deliberately seemed to have made use of the theoretical concept memory to promote a particular take on the past and a more critical approach towards history that he (the curator) argued had taken on mythic proportions.

In her paper, Ilaria Porciani provided an exposé of how the National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento in Turin had highlighted different aspects of Italian history over the years, from nationalism, to fascisms over to celebrating anti-Fascist resistance groups after
the end of WW2. When the museum re-opened in 2011 they aimed at reflexivity, to display the museums journey through different political paradigms.

Kristin Kuutma’s narration of the Stalinistic take-over of national museums in Estonia provided  a very significant case of political (mis)use of collections. Even though the deeds of a totalitarian regime offer extreme cases of repression of intellectuals and of
political uses of history, the Estonian example directed the attention to how museums are vulnerable to political interventions.

Papers and keynotes from the workshop will be published later this year at

Bodil Axelsson

Below. Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration uses a mix of personal objects, photos, contemporary art installations,, maps, and interactives to display experiences of migration.  The building and its frescos, built for the purpose of the World Colonial Fair 1931, implicitely acknowledges migration related to France’s colonial heritage.

Posted in Eunamus' conferences, Research | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment