Conference article

Reading the Official and the Unofficial

Mattias Bäckström
Department of History of Ideas and Theory of Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

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Published in: Comparing: National Museums; Territories; Nation-Building and Change. NaMu IV; Linköping University; Norrköping; Sweden 18-20 February 2008

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 30:12, p. 167-173

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Published: 2008-05-20


ISSN: 1650-3686 (print), 1650-3740 (online)


Official documents of the folk museums and open-air museums in Scandinavia demonstrate in many respects a history of similarities between themselves; while the unofficial documents contain a history of different local strategies to maintain the joint visions of the museum. Therefore; it is necessary for the historian to keep his gaze fixed on the texts; on the differences of the contents; but also to be aware of all distractions that originate in one’s self; distractions that creates imaginary meanings; which in their turn threaten the otherness of the documents. Thus; the task of a historian; I argue; is to maintain the otherness of the documents; and to dig out their different and presumed unessential contents; i.e. to uphold the straggly shape of the “folk-memory”.

This article gives some examples of the official and the unofficial sides of “folk-memory” in late 19th century Scandinavia; which a broader reading of the documents has unveiled. A study of the documents in filing cabinets and in cellar vaults of museums makes it possible to describe different similarities and differences than those which occur in a more limited reading of the published texts. Not until such an expanded and text-focused historical investigation has been carried out; is it possible to see the cracks in the “folk-memory”; and its other and more secret boundaries.


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