Conference article

Maritime master narratives in European national museums

Andy Sawyer
University of Leicester, UK

Download article

Published in: Great Narratives of the Past Traditions and Revisions in National Museums

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:29, p. 467-485

Show more +

Published: 2012-10-30


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


Some national museums have produced narratives of the nation and its history around specifically maritime themes. To what extent are those presented histories ‘European’? Preliminary research was carried out in two areas: first; narratives based on exhibitions of Norse culture and history (which had an impact across Europe); and secondly; narratives in or about historic ships; vessels created in the context of European conflicts; and often sited on Europe’s littoral boundaries. In each case a photographic survey was undertaken to contribute to an overall record of the physical aspects of each gallery; focussing on specific exhibits and text panels to provide detail. Plans and sample publications were collected; and websites examined to obtain as comprehensive a view as possible of the way different institutions display their collections. Specific national themes were prominent; although the exhibits are about events which were shared European experiences.


No keywords available


Anon (a). N.d. ’The Viking Legacy in Ireland’ [text panel]; Viking Ireland Gallery; National Archaeology Museum; Dublin.

Anon (b). N.d. ’The 19th century: the creation of the Viking Period’ [text panel]; Vikingar gallery; Historiska Museet; Stockholm.

Anon (c). N.d. ’HMS Victory’. SNR (Society for Nautical Research). Online. Available <> (accessed 11 February 2011).

Anon (d). (2010) Souvenir Guide. Portsmouth: Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Trust.

Anon (e). N.d. HMS Victory [leaflet]; n.p.: RN Graphics Centre.

Anon (f). (2004) ’Tries to do too much; but gets points for realism’ [film review]; IMDb (The Internet Movie database). Online. Available <> (accessed 25 July 2011).

Aronsson; P. (forthcoming) ‘Exhibiting Scandinavian culture: The national museums of Denmark and Sweden’; in Berger; S.; Lorenz; C. and Melman; B.; (eds) Consuming the Past: Popular National Histories in Modern Europe; London: Routledge.

Babbidge; A. (2000) ’UK museums: Safe and sound?’ Cultural Trends; 10 (37): 1–35.

Bourke; M. (2011) The story of Irish museums 1790–2000 : culture; identity and education; Cork: Cork University Press.

Clarke; H.B. (1995) ’The Vikings in Ireland: A Historian’s Perspective’; Archaeology Ireland 9 (3) The Viking Issue 7–9.

Davies; N. (1996) Europe; A History; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Frank; T.; and Hadler; F. (2010) Disputed territories and shared pasts : overlapping national histories in modern Europe (Writing the Nation Series: 5); Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Gardell; M. (2003) Gods of the blood: the pagan revival and White separatism; Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Halewood; C. and Hannan; K. (2001) ’Viking Heritage Tourism: Authenticity and Commodification’; Annals of Tourism Research; 28 (3) 565–580.

Kaplan; D. and Hakli; J. (eds) (2002) Boundaries and place; Boston; MA: Rowman and Littlefield.

Keynes; S. (1999) ‘The cult of King Alfred the Great’; Anglo-Saxon England; 28. 225–356.

MacGregor; N. (2009) ’250 years on: What does it mean to be a world museum?’ [Public lecture 15 January] British Museum. Online. Available <> (accessed 14 July 2011).

Levy; D.; Pensky; M. and Torpey; J. (2005) ‘Editors’ Introduction’ in Habermas; J. and Derrida; J. (eds); Old Europe; new Europe; core Europe: transatlantic relations after the Iraq war; London: Verso.

Moore; G. (2000) Command Approved; [film] UK: BBC Resources/Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust.

Odelburg; M. (1983). A Key to the Doors of History; Stockholm: Museum for National Antiquities.

O’Donoghue; H. (2008) From Asgard to Valhalla: the remarkable history of the Norse myths; London; New York: I.B. Tauris.

Scragg; D.S.; and Weinberg; C. (2000) Literary appropriations of the Anglo-Saxons from the thirteenth to the twentieth century; Cambridge: New York: Cambridge University Press.

Smith; A.D. (1991) National identity; London: Penguin Books.

Wallace; P.F. (1989) ‘Conservatives Lose out in Museum Race’ in Archaeology Ireland 3 (Spring). 21–25.

Wallace; P.F. (2008) ’Irish Archaeology and the Recognition of Ethnic Difference in Viking Dublin’; in Habu; J.; Fawcett; C.P. and Matsunga; J.M. (eds); Evaluating multiple narratives: beyond nationalist; colonialist; imperialist archaeologies; New York: Springer.

Wawn; A. (2000) The Vikings and the Victorians : inventing the old north in nineteenthcentury Britain; Cambridge; Rochester; NY: D.S. Brewer.

Wawn; A. (2011) ’The Viking Revival’; BBC History. Online. Available <> (accessed 27 July 2011).

Citations in Crossref