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Summaries 1993/1

1993/1 Summaries


From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 3-16

Mogens Bencard:

The Museums and the Order of the Universe

It is the aim of this paper to underline the similarities between modern museums and the comprehensive `Kunstkammers' of former days. There is a tendency to overlook the rationale behind the `Kunstkammers' and to consider them merely as haphazard collections of curiosities.
The paper first describes the earliest `Kunstkam-mers' from those in Vienna (1553; which Rudolph II removed to Prague), Dresden (1560), and Munich (1565) to the one in Innsbruck (1573). Two early treatises on the ordering of princely collections are mentioned - Samuel Quiccheberg (1565) and Gabriel Kaltemarckt (1587).
The contents of these `Kunstkammers' vary according to their owners' tastes, but basically they have the same aim: to be comprehensive and encyclopaedic, to be a microcosm of the whole world gathered under one roof. Furthermore they were created for the glory of prince and country, while at the same time having an educational purpose. This latter aim was specifically mentioned by Peter the Great on the opening of his Kunstkammer in S. Petersburg in 1714. "I want people to look and learn", he declared.
Next the development in Denmark is presented, starting with the Turning Cabinets. Christian III (reigned 1534-1559) had such a cabinet and his own private turner - who was probably also his teacher. The records mention in 1568 that Fredrik II's turning cabinet or `Wunderkammer' was adjacent to the king's bedchamber in Kronborg Castle in Elsinore. Christian IV (1588-1648), who also worked a lathe, seems to have been a collector of the old school, whereas his oldest son, the hereditary prince, who died before his father, was a more methodical collector, who seems to have been the owner of the unfortunately unknown contents of a `Kunstkammer' in Frederiksborg Castle.
The Royal Danish `Kunstkammer' is a late example of the European `Kunstkammers' because of king Christian's lack of interest and the length of his reign. It was his son, Frederik III (1648-1670) who finally established it in 1650. His strong personal interest can clearly be seen through his many acquisitions in the early years, not least the important addition of Ole Worm's `Kunstkammer' in 1654.
In 1665 the foundations were laid for an independent building adjacent to Copenhagen Castle. The three-storeyed building, which was finished in the 1670's contained an armoury below, the Royal Library on the middle floor, and the `Kunstkammer' at the top.
Today there is not only the documentary evidence of the first systematic inventory (published by Bente Gundestrup in 1991) but, because of their unusually extensive preservation, there are the collections themselves. This presents us with the rare opportunity to compare the written sources with the material objects. The items themselves are better evidence to the rationale behind the collections than the often confusing, to the modern mind sometimes merely amusing, texts.
Two `Kunstschränke', both today at Rosenborg, are then described. Both demonstrate quite clearly the principle of the `Kunstkammer': to have all aspects of nature and man's activities represented in a microcosm.
The paper then returns to the `Kunstkammer'. The various inventories (1673, 1690, 1737, 1775, 1809) reveal not only a growing collection, but also, since the location remained unchanged, the fate of all museums under identical conditions: showcases and rooms become overcrowded, the idea of the initial systematic exhibition is lost and the public becomes confused and bored.
Transferring the coin collections, the minerals, the antiquities, and the portraits to other museums did not suffice - quite apart from the fact that the `Kunstkammer' was totally outdated, both as a practical museum as well as a concept. The Specialist had supplanted the Polyhistor; the specialised museum the encyclopaedic one.
The driving force in this development was an outsider, the Lord Marshall, A.W.Hauch. It took him ten years to overcome the conservatism of the museum people. But finally, during the 1820's, the `Kunst-kammer' was dissolved, and a new museum organisation was created. Perhaps the all-embracing character of the `Kunstkammer' is best demonstrated by the fact that all the major state museums - e g the Art Gallery, the Print Room, the Antique and Coins Collections, the Botanical, the Geological and the Zoological Museums - have one common basic source: the `Kunstkammer'.
The paper concludes with the close relationship between the purpose of the modern museum and of the `Kunstkammer'. Both demonstrate to society the cultural identity of a nation, and intend to educate the specialist as well as the general public.

Mogens Bencard er mag.art i kunsthistorie, 1961-77 antikvar ved Den antikvariske Samling i Ribe, 1977-80 prosjektleder for Sydjysk Universitetscenter, Esbjerg. Fra 1980 direktør for De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling på Rosenborg og Amalienborg.

Adr: De Danske Kongers Kronologiske Samling på Rosenborg, Øster Voldgade 4A, DK-1350 København K.


From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 17-30

Jørgen Jensen:

Christian Jürgensen Thomsen's Museum - a Vision of the Golden Age

The foundation of the National Museum in Copen-hagen in 1807 was a late result of the Danish cultural policy at the end of the Enlightenment period. The inspiration came from France, primarily from Alexandre Lenoir's Musée des Monuments Français established in 1793 and from the Musée Napoleon opened in 1804 in the Louvre, both of them didactically arranged art collections open to the public. A major step in the development of the Danish National Museum was, however, taken in 1816 when a young, prosperous businessman, Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (1788-1865), took over the management of the collections on a full-time basis. In 1819 he was also able to open the doors of the museum and admit the public to the new didactic arrangement of the collections. Thomsen knew how to attract the general public with his lively guided tours. But he was also a brilliant scholar. Through systematic study of the ancient artefacts which were delivered to the museum, he arrived at the conviction, as early as the 1820s and before anyone else in Europe, that prehistory could be divided up into a Stone Age, a Bronze Age and an Iron Age.
Thomsen's work took place during the first half of the 19th century, a period which in Denmark has later been called the Golden Age. Culturally it was a very rich period which also saw the reorganisation of the many museum collections in Copenhagen - and Thomsen became the director of most of them. He had a thorough knowledge of European museum development at that time, of the contemporary museums in Britain and on the Continent: the British Museum in London, the Altes Museum in Berlin and the Glyptotek in Munich, all of them built in the neo-classical style so characteristic of the bourgeois culture. In contrast to other European cities Copenhagen did not see the erection of any neo-classical museum temple. However, at the end of the 1840's most of Thomsen's collections were moved to the `Prinsens Palæ' (the Crown Prince's Palace), a beautiful 18th century rococo palace in the heart of Copenhagen where they are still housed. Here he created a universal museum comprising an ethnographical collection, a coin collection side by side with prehistoric and historical collections.
Thomsen's museum concept was typical of the evolutionism of the Golden Age. His arrangement of the collections reflected his own evolutionary ideas which saw mankind developing trough identical evolutionary stages throughout the world. His museum became immensely popular with the public and acquired a reputation which reached far beyond Denmark's borders.
In 1849 Denmark gained a new constitution and Thomsen's museum became state property. Making an impressive effort the now 60-year-old Thomsen adjusted his museum to the new political situation even if, paradoxically, he was met with a certain scepticism by the politicians. The left wing politicians of the new parliament especially wanted to cut his budgets. But thanks to Thomsen's organisational talents his museum survived and still exists as an impressive manifestation of the holistic thinking of the Golden Age.

Jørgen Jensen, mag.art i forhistorisk arkeologi, museumsinspektør på Nationalmuseet, afdelingen for oldtid og middelalder. Har i 1992 udgivet "Thomsens Museum. Historien om Nationalmuseet". Hans øvrige litterære produktion omfatter bl.a. flere oversiktsverker om dansk oldtidshistorie.

Adr: Nationalmuseet, OMA. Frederiksholms Kanal 12, DK-1220 København K

From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 31-44

Erik Fischer:

The Art in Museums, the Art of Museums?

Some time in the late twenties my father, wanting to introduce me to the delights of higher civilisation, invited myself, then hardly ten years old, and my somewhat younger cousin to visit the Thorwaldsen Museum. Losing himself in enthusiastic expoundings, my father soon forgot all about time until my candid cousin pulled his sleeve, asking him with evident signs of boredom when does it begin? thus indicating expectations not of aesthetic bliss but of excitements similar to those so very familiar to an already experienced cinéaste.
In retrospect my cousin appears a herald of future developments within museum policy: tranquil contemplation of masterpieces being hardly the aim any longer, something must happen, activity must manifest itself in sensations and perpetual success, statistically measurable by ever growing numbers of visitors. Still in the twenties the very word "success" had slightly vulgar connotations associating the word with music-halls and American best-sellers, but hardly with spiritual or intellectual activities like visits to museums.
Since statistical evaluations of the importance of any museum merely describe the number of people who go through entrance but not what happens subsequently, nor the duration or the spiritual or intellectual benefit of the visit, they should be considered as being of very limited value. Despite this fact we possess no better means of evaluating a museum's success.
After considering in some detail the ancient belief in the purifying potential of works of art, the coming into existence of art museums, of collectors, critics, curators and the art market, as well as discussing briefly the interactions of such factors, the essay concludes by asking the following desperate questions:
Art is allegedly very important, but in many ways it is an extremely complicated subject. Must it necessarily be important to all people? What do we want from art? Must the importance of art necessarily be accepted without argument? It seems a strange fact that such questions are hardly ever raised by those involved in criticism and curatorship and consequently are hardly ever answered. Instead, art is treated like a continuously self-generating perpetuum mobile. Has the time not come for such questions to be asked by museums - and even somehow answered?



Erik Fischer er mag.art i kunsthistorie, museumsinspektør ved Den kgl. Kobberstiksamling, Statens Museum for Kunst fra 1948, leder 1957-90. Lektor i Kunsthistorie ved Københavns Universitet 1964-90, Dr. phil. honoris causa ved Københavns Universitet 1991.

Adr: Agergårdsvej 5, Ammendrup, DK-3200 Helsinge


From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 45-59

Bjørnar Olsen:

The Archaeological Museums - Some Critical Points

Archaeology's public identity is inextricably linked to museums and museum practice. The museum exhibitions constitute the main point of contact between archaeology and the public. In official scholarly and political discourse the social role of the museum is claimed to be that of the protection and conservation of prehistoric material and the presentation of knowledge about the past to the public. Furthermore, it is often maintained that the museum should provide a connection with history and a stability and thus impart to society a sense of its roots and its identity.
This paper argues against this sympathetic view of the museum's social role. Instead it is claimed that, to a considerable degree, the historical and archaeological museums serve to legitimise ideologically our modern, western way of life. The main argument is that most archaeological exhibitions eliminate what is particular and conditioned by the precise situation in time to both the past and the present. Focusing on well-known and easily recognisable categories such as technology, economy, settlement and religion, the historicity and difference of both the past and the present are erased. Both the bizarre in and the alternatives to our own way of life are concealed in this modern museum meta-narrative.
One of the reasons why archaeological exhibitions have become servants of current ideological interests, is that those who produce the exhibitions mainly regard their task as a question of communication. This emphasis on rhetoric, e g how to present the message in the most pedagogical and convincing way, has displaced any discussion of the crucial problem concerning the production of archaeological knowledge. Instead this rhetoric assumes an idyllic consensus about the past, that there exists a given portion of knowledge, and that the main problem consists in transferring this knowledge from the archaeologist to the public.
To alter this situation, a new museology has to focus on the problems involved in the production of knowledge. It has to visualise this production as an active process in a current socio-political context. There is no genuine and homogeneous past to be brought into harmony with archaeological thought and then neutrally re-presented to the public. Exhibitions should focus more on the plurality of interpretations and stimulate the interpretative creativity of the visitors. This also involves showing them how the interpretations of the past have changed through time and what they changed in response to. Finally, and maybe most important, a new presentation of the past has to emphasise the difference and otherness of the past. Doing this will enable us to place our own values, morality and reasoning, the universality of which we take for granted, in a cultural and historical context.



Bjørnar Olsen, mag.art. i arkeologi, ansatt som arkeolog ved Tromsø universitet. Arbeider med orientering mot et bredt spekter av spørsmål knyttet til arkeologiens teoretiske fundament. Var gjestende forskningsstipendiat i Cambridge 1985-86.

Adr: Tromsø Museum, Ark. avd., Folkeparken, N-9000 Tromsø

From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 61-65

Per-Uno Ågren:

Museums and Cultural Heritage

The literal and original meaning of the term museology - science of museums - was connected with the practices of the big museums in the continent of Europe. The term was used to cover the different methods applied in museum work. In recent years the concept has been expanded as a result of the continuos debate going on within ICOM (The International Council of Museums). Museology, it is argued, should study how, in different cultures and societies, people select and treat their material heritage, the movable property as well the physical environment, and what type of institutions and structures are established to manage the preservation, care and communication of the historical heritage. Such a definition of museology is easy to accept and adopt in Scandinavia, where historically there has been a close connection between the State Board of Antiquities responsible for the care of monuments and sites, on the one hand and the public museums on the other. Then the paper states that the relationship between material and non-material culture, which are both present in public discourse, constantly presents tensions - the one being static and permanent, the other dynamic and transient. In museology the study of the museological process, wherein the cultural heritage of a society is created through the interaction of the non-material and the material elements of culture, is of central concern. The second basic concept is the museological object - how it is selected and defined in different societies over time. Museology has three main theoretical perspectives - a historical one which describes and explains the cultural heritage in different places and times, a sociological one which studies the behaviour, activities and institutions which the idea of cultural heritage has produced, and a communicative one which studies the way in which the heritage has been passed on in different societies. Finally the paper exemplifies the type of research which should be carried out by museologists in the fields of theory of documentation, preservation and communication. The necessity for an interdisciplinary basis for museology is stressed throughout the paper.


Per-Uno Ågren är högskolelektor och prefekt vid institutionen för museologi, Umeå universitet. Arbetade åren 1953-83 vid Västerbottens museum, Umeå.

Adr: Institutionen för museologi, Umeå Universitet, S-901 87 Umeå


From Nordisk Museologi 1993/1: SUMMARY pp. 62-72

Janne Vilkuna:

Museology in Finland

The development of museums was severely impended first by the Civil War of 1918 and then by the Second World War. However in 1923 the Finnish Museums Association had been formed, and museum training had a prominent place on its agenda. A training course was arranged in 1928. However in the 30's the complaint was made that the profession lacked a scientific basis. New efforts were made after the war, in 1948. In the 1950's and 60's the first permanent posts were established in local and regional museums. In the 70's new legislation granted economic support to both museums of art and of cultural history in the regions, which led to a considerable growth in the number of employees. Today Finland has more than 800 museums and more than 100 of them have a total of 1.500 permanent posts.
Until the 1980's professional competence was gained through in-service training, although technical courses had been arranged since 1964 for students of archaeology, anthropology and history of art at the university of Helsinki. Museology courses proper were instituted in 1982 at the University of Åbo and in the following year at Jyväskylä. At Jyväskylä the only post in Finland as reader in museology has been attached to the Department of Art History. At the University of Helsinki a museology course was established in 1992/ 93 with very restricted admission. Museology is also offered at Åbo Academy and the university of Oulu. All those organising the courses have agreed that the basic museology course should have a minimum duration of 20 weeks.


Janne Vilkuna är FD i etnologi, arbetade åren 1980-89 vid Mellersta Finlands museum, Jyväskylä, är sedan 1989 överassistent i museologi vid Institutionen för konsthistoria, Jyväskylä universitet, chef för universitetets museum, ledamot i Finlands museiförbunds styrelse.

Adr: Institutionen för konsthistoria, PI Box 35, SF-40351 Jyväskylä


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