National Museums in Norway

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


Norway has no formal national museum(s); i.e. recognised as such by the Norwegian State; the Norwegian Parliament or the Norwegian Government. Nevertheless; since the early nineteenth century there have been collections and museums with the obvious and explicit aim of displaying national culture and national history and with the Government and Parliament as important sources for funding and contributors to museum policy making. On the other hand; not all Norwegian museums or collections with ‘Norwegian’ as part of its official name should be considered national museums not even with respect to the functional definition chosen in the EuNaMus project – e.g. the Norwegian Road Museum; Oil Museum; Canning Museum etc. The Norwegian museums chosen for this report have an explicit and permanent national cultural narrative ambition; have their origins in the nineteenth century and have played an important role in the development of the museum field in Norway. The National Collection of Antiquities responsible for the Viking ship findings was the leading institution in regard to Norwegian nation-building during the nineteenth century.

As shown by the table below; the most important national museums in Norway were established in periods when Norway was eager to demonstrate national identity and independence. Norwegian state institutions were few and weak in 1814; the first year of the new state of Norway. Accordingly; many of the first museum initiatives (1-4) were taken by Professors at the University in Oslo; which was established in 1811. The links between the University and these museums have all been intact until the present. The main perspective in these nineteenth century museum initiatives was to combine the need to establish academic competence; the necessary safeguarding of National antiquities and culture; and the search for comparative research material. The Norwegian Parliament engaged directly in the establishment of a National Gallery (5; 7); while the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (6) was a private initiative aiming at encouraging the understanding of aesthetic values in public and private spheres by comparing decorative styles from Norway and other parts of Europe. The aim of the privately-founded Norwegian Folk Museum (8) was to display Norwegian culture; both urban and rural; from the sixteenth century onwards; a period not covered systematically by the University Museums. This museum is still privately owned; but with substantial public funding.

National museums in Norway; and the Antiquity Collection in particular; played a major role in developing and sustaining important national symbols like the Viking ships; the Viking and Medieval heritage of a nation proud of its ancient past and material representations of urban and especially of rural origin from the more recent cultural history of the nation. In the last decades; however; official Norwegian policy on migration issues and multiculturalist ideology has challenged the traditional museum narratives; but only moderately changed them.


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