Making National Museums in Europe - a comparative approach

Peter Aronsson
Tema Kultur och samhälle, Institutionen för studier av samhällsutveckling och kultur, Filosofiska fakulteten, Linköpings Universitet, Sweden

Gabriella Elgenius
Institutionen för samhälle och kultur, Filosofiska fakulteten, Linköpings Universitet, Sweden

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Ingår i: 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. EuNaMus Report No. 1

Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings 64:2, s. 5-20

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


National museums refer to those institutions; collections and displays claiming; articulating and representing dominant national values; myths and realities. From this perspective; national museums can hereby be explored as historic and contemporary processes of negotiations and values that constitute the basis for national communities and state-formations. National museums have thus become significant within arenas of negotiation and consolidation of new answers to questions ultimately linked to nationhood; citizenship and the role of the nation within a system of other nations. We argue here that national representation and representations of nations; as negotiated by national museums; provide a contribution to shaping and representing the socio-political community. Moreover; the fundamental properties of nations and states; perceived of as legitimate and factual representations of the world; are presenting the nation within a political system of other nations. Once established; national museums become a cultural asset and force unto themselves that are to be regarded and rearranged but seldom destroyed by new socio-political groups and visions. The longevity of their existence across periods of political change provides one of the powerful features of the institution.

Some periods and contexts have; in particular; been conducive to museum-building such as the intensive demand for national museums that followed in the wake of the Napoleonic wars with the creation of national states; justifying autonomy of the state on the basis of national distinctiveness and uniqueness. As a result; regional differences within nations were rearranged in order to fit with such affiliations and promote new loyalties. The notion of a western civilisation and western values were also nationalized in the process of museum making in Europe resulting in different interpretations of universal; national and transnational values and identifications. It is within such contexts; among many; that a study of national museums - as a means of representing high culture; values and national pride - provide illuminating and comparative data on the many related processes of nationalisation.

The aim of the EuNaMus research programme is to to illuminate gaps in existing research by adding a crucial comparative perspective to the study of national museums. We are hereby presenting the first comprehensive overview over national museums in Europe and outline the basis of comparative elements and significant variables. In a comparative light and as a rule; the trajectories of the European national museums provide an account of the parallel interactions between museum; nation and state and give witness to the long standing relevance of national museums as constituent components of what will be analysed as negotiated cultural constitutions. It is through these that nations have expressed a yearning for a golden and legitimate past. Attempting to balance such perceived needs for continuity with the increased diversity and difference of the contemporary world turns the notion of a unified agenda of the future into a challenge.


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