National Museums in the Republic of Turkey: Palimpsests within a Centralized State

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


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


This study considers how the various forms of the museum within the Turkish context serve in the production of a decentralized national narrative that becomes replicated to reify Turkish identity through multiple; non-hierarchized heritage sources. Through the overlay of institutions established during these periods; contemporary Turkish museums; whether public or private; serve as museums of the nation not because of their conceptual cohesion or administrative centralization; but because through this layering; they express the many competing threads through which national culture and heritage construct a complex; and at times contradictory; national narrative which enables competing segments of the population to coexist. The study provides a chronological survey of the development of museums with a special focus on five key case studies that each reflects changing relationships between the state; the nation; and the concept of the museum in various eras of Turkey’s history.

In the Republic of Turkey; the Ottoman emphasis on museums of archaeology and military spolia became transformed into an emphasis on historic museums as a means of glorifying early imperial history and differentiating the republic from its Ottoman past; ethnographic-archaeological museums as a means of inscribing a unified historical and ethnological map of the country; particularly Anatolia; and; more recently; using art (in lieu of archaeology) as a signal of participation in European cultural practices; particularly among urban elite audiences. As explored in this report; these types can be best understood as a complex palimpsest of the four historical eras of national identity production during which different museum typologies were introduced for different needs: the late Ottoman era (1839-1922); the early Republican era (1922-1960); the era between two eras of military rule (1961-1983) and the current era (1984- 2010). The study will also focus on five key case studies that each reflects changing relationships between the state; the nation; and the concept of the museum in various eras of Turkey’s history: the Ottoman Imperial Museum (1846); the Topkapi Palace Museum (1924); the Ethnographic Museum (1928); the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (1968) and the Istanbul Modern Museum of Art (2004).


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