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European Commission European Research Area & Seventh Framework Programme. Funded under Socio-economic Sciences & Humanities

Museum Policies in Europe between 1990 and 2010: Negotiating Political and Professional Utopia

This strand of Eunamus studies how nations develop policy in order to deploy national museums in national redefinition. As cornerstones of national identity, national museums define a nation’s relationship to the past, and mobilize history for both cohesive (nation building) and divisive (nation defining) purposes. In a Europe realizing the impact of globalization and mass human migration, the role of national museums is put to debate. The results from this research will play a vital part in shaping Eunamus policy statements on how national museums can play a role in European social cohesion. Findings will be presented at an open conference in Oslo 27-29 June 2012. Click here to read more.

To establish some main perspectives, and look at differences within Europe, on the development of museum political discourses during the last 20 years, case studies cover five different countries: EstoniaHungary, France, Greece, and Norway, as well as policy development from the European Union (EU).

After Soviet

In Eastern Europe, and in the former Baltic provinces of the Soviet Union, new kinds of nationalism are accompanying the reinvention of old nations. Material culture in national museums in these countries is now being re-sorted and narratives rewritten in order to produce these new national realities.Gabor Elbi and Peter Apor from the Central European University perform in their report a detailed presentation of Hungary, hereby exemplifying how East-Central Europe has been profoundly reshaped after the dismantling of the socialist dictatorships in 1989-1990. According to Apor, it has been important “to unbound museums from ideological constraints and heavy state infiltration” in order to increase the level of cultural and professional autonomy of civil societies in Hungary. The Hungarian National Museum is in this report presented as the foremost authority in the museum infrastructure of the country, but the National Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts serve together with the Museum of Ethnography, the House of Minorities and the Roma Museum of Contemporary Art as other interesting case studiesEstonia will serve as an exemplary study of the Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union that defines the socio-political rupture in Europe of the past two decades (the collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist system and the extensive enlargement of the European Union in the 21st century). In her report, professor Kristin Kuutma from the University of Tartu presents three case studies: History Museum, Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Art Museum, and she identifies three distinct periods defining the shifting focus of politicians after the collapse of the communist system.

Development in a former colonial empire

In European states which formerly possessed large colonial empires, like France or Great Britain, the sense of nation has dealt with waves of immigration, and each has developed different sensibilities with regard to multiculturalism and one-nationalism. Felicity Bodenstein from the Sorbonne University in Paris demonstrates in her report on French museum policies “how contemporary ideological tendencies are reformulating France’s Universalist ambitions as a desire to represent diversity and to establish places of cultural dialogue that is very much present in current museum policy”. She argues however that the general desire to address difficult aspects of the nation’s past and present seems to give preference to strategies that one might define as neutralizing rather than as explicative. Examples of political actions and demonstrations in museums (e.g. ’Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditérranée’) suggest, however, that the civil society in France claims the museum as a space for a dialogue that it intends to be part of.

Contemporary uses of classical antiquity

At the borderlands of Europe, nations confront rather different challenges. Greece and Turkey, have related to a classical past in quite different ways to invent universal notions of nationhood and trans-European national influence. Alexandra Bounia from the University of Agean discusses the ways and the extent to which national museums have proclaimed their political and cultural roles, using the new Acropolis Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens as important case studies. The last decade of the 20th century and up to 2004 was a period of prosperity for Greece, as the country joined the European Economic Community and successfully organized the Summer Olympics. The following period was an anticlimax, which eventually led to the current difficult situation: economic constraints leading to a serious financial and social crisis, influencing cultural policy and museum policy in particular.

Incorporating minorities and migrants

The Nordic countries have over the past decades come to terms with an excluding and colonial history related to several minority groups, and Norway is no exception. Lill Eilertsen from the University of Oslo introduces Norwegian museum policies by pointing to a comprehensive museum reform initiated in 2001 with the aim to facilitate administrative processes and secure milieus of professionals in Norwegian museums. The reform has caused a profound change in the Norwegian museum landscape, both on an administrative level and in regard to official aims and statutes. The impact it has had on Sámi museums is also treated. The Norwegian Folk Museum, the National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture and the Museum of Cultural History, all situated in Oslo, serve as central cases in the study of how both private and public national museums have redefined their aims in order to adapt to the official museum policy of the Norwegian Government, hereby causing both minor and profound controversies.

European Union as an agent of change

Finally, Maria Höglund from the University of Linköping states in her report that the role of museums as possible agents of social change isn’t necessarily just of national concern. EU as an actor in the museum field is a rather unexplored area, and Höglund aims to provide a collected picture of the aims and means that the Union has had to influence museum activities. She looks at the fundamental EU agreements in the field of culture politics, like the key document ‘The Agenda’ (European Agenda for Culture in a Globalizing World) released in 2007 and further exemplifies a range of channels where the EU has approached museums during 1993-2010. According to Höglund, culture is both considered a problem and a solution to the European integration problem.

Responsible partner: The Department of Culture studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo. Click here to read more.


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reflect the views of the European Commission. Header image: The Schievelbeinfries is reproduced with kind permission of The Neues Museum, Berlin.Web site content: Bodil Axelsson