Conference article

Four narrative perspectives on Swiss history at the Swiss National Museum

Pascale Meyer
Swiss National Museum, Zurich, Switzerland

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

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 78:32, p. 519-530

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Published: 2012-10-30


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


In 2009; the Swiss National Museum in Zurich chose a new approach for its permanent exhibition; and made a thematic narrative – based on four major research areas of contemporary historiography – the centre of its exhibition rooms. Underpinning this concept was the realisation that the main focus of contemporary research must be reflected in the presentation of history; even if it is in a constant process of change and reformulation. The collection of objects in the National Museum’s possession reflects earlier areas of research into Switzerland’s cultural history. The second new permanent exhibition; the ‘Collections Gallery’ reflects this emphasis on collecting; and shows the outstanding pieces in a display that is solely focused on the objects.

In contrast; the permanent exhibition on Swiss history had to find new ways of presentation; since the National Museum’s collections have gaps in the areas of political and economic history; as well as in contemporary history. And yet; a new narrative of Swiss history must offer visitors precisely these links between outstanding objects of cultural history and the narrative of a national history; which addresses themes that are not shown in the collection. The four chapters of Swiss history are structured chronologically and enable the historical study of the settlement; religious; political and economic history of Switzerland – from the pre-Christian era to the 21st century. The objects in the collection have now been given ‘a new mediality’ in the nation’s venerable ‘Hall of Fame’. The modernity of the scenography; the presentations and arrangements of the objects break with the earlier presentation of political history which was characterized by the depiction of military victories. It now takes the visitor along a path – which can be physically followed – to consensual Swiss democracy and thus makes a contribution to the contemporary understanding of political developments in Switzerland. The other rooms give visitors a picture of Switzerland that is shaped by immigration and emigration; by religious conflicts and splits; by its political system based on consensus as well as early economic successes. The narrative strand links transformational processes with the great ruptures in history; and thus places itself entirely at the service of historical learning; one of the most important tasks of a history museum.


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