From Nordisk Museologi 1998/1: SUMMARY pp. 17-24
Cultural heritage - what are we talking about?
The 1984 Danish Museum Act stated that the objective of the law should be to safeguard the cultural heritage of Denmark. The paper comments critically on this concept.
The author starts with an example drawn from the song book used in Danish folk high schools, where the texts of the songs illustrate the great esteem in which cultural traditions are held. There are however considerable inherent ambiguities.
The concept of culture is superficially touched upon to demonstrate that in itself it can denote both a common culture inherited from generation to generation as well as the continuous creation of new cultural elements. As E.B.Tyler has pointed out, the concept of culture presents a complex whole, and it is not clear exactly which part of the cultural heritage it should be the task of the museum to safeguard.
Furthermore the concept has certain limitations as put forward by E. Sapir. One such limitation equates culture with the education given to the ruling class in which essential cultural elements become shared inside a national or ethnic group thus distinguishing it from others.
If the cultural heritage is understood according to the definition above there is a particular risk that museums could become explicitly ideological in a reactionary way.
To this it must be added that, if the concept in a general sense includes the traditionally transferred elements, most of what forms cultural heritage does not concern museums. Most of the contents of museum collections are no longer part of what is transferred within a living culture. They are rather leftovers from earlier cultural situations.
Consequently one cannot really grasp what the sweeping concept of cultural heritage is all about. It would have been better had the legislators asked museums to discuss rather than to save «the cultural heritage»!
Torben Witt, mag.art. i etnologi, museumsdirektør, Aalborg Historiske Museum.
Adresse: Postboks 1805, DK-9100 Aalborg
Fax +45-98 16 11 31
From Nordisk Museologi 1998/1: SUMMARY pp. 33-38
Monika Åkerlund & Jan-Erik Bergh:
Conservation - a concern for all of us
The laws of thermodynamics tell us that the entropy in a closed system increases, which means that systems go from order to disorder, thus explaining e. g. that a key manufactured from ore will turn into ore again if no energy is invested in maintaining it as a key. Objects can be degraded not only by chemical or physical processes, but also by biodeterioration. The later is processed by infestation from mould or bacteria or by insects, rodents etc.
The official governmental report «Minne och bildning» (Swedish Department of Culture 1994) discusses the main tasks of a museum: to collect and record - to take care of and preserve - to display and educate. Research programs are integrated parts of these activities. Preventive conservation is by the authors considered as a most important field of activity, as not only the result of display and education tasks but also much of the research is depending on well preserved objects.
A Swedish governmental project, SESAM, was started about two years ago as an effort to reduce the large amount of objects waiting for conservation - the mountain of untreated objects - but also as a help for the museums to open up their collections by e. g. transferring the records into digitalised form.
The working group of the Swedish museums, PRE-MAL (Pest Research and Education - Museums, Archives and Libraries) has members who are specialised in textile, paper, wood and animal conservation, in entomology and in occupational health research. PRE-MAL has been active during about ten years with problems concerning control of museum pest insects and is now financed by SESAM.
The research program of the group is concentrated on the effectiveness of treatment with certain insecticides and low oxygen (vacuum and nitrogen) (in co-operation with the Danish Pest Infestation Laboratory and the Technical University of Denmark), the impact of freezing on wool fibres and paper, and problems related to staff exposed to insecticides (especially chlorated carbohydrates).
The education program includes courses, papers, conference lectures, species identification, advice, books and a video tape. We have arranged two Nordic symposia and will host a third one in Stockholm in September 1998. Special guest speakers on this occasion will be David Pinniger and Adrian Meyer, England and Tom Strang, Canada.
PRE-MAL´s members look upon themselves as a support for museums, archives and libraries in questions concerning preventive conservation, especially pest insect problems. We find it important that this type of inter-disciplinary group will also in the future be given economical support. Together with an investment in good possibilities for the preventive conservation activity in the museums and other institutes, this will highly reduce costs in the future.
Monika Åkerlund är biolog och arbetar på Naturhistoriska riksmuseet sedan 1980 Hon har en fil.kand.-examen med inriktning på entomologi. Sedan 1985 arbetar hon med skadedjursproblemet i museer, där både forskning och undervisning ingår. Hon anordnar kurser och håller föredrag i ämnet. Hon är också författare till ett par böcker samt medproducent till en video om skadedjur och skadedjursbekämpning i samlingar. Monika Åkerlund är sekreterare i PRE-MAL (Pest Research and Education - Museums, Archives and Libraries), de svenska museernas, arkivens och bibliotekens skadedjursgrupp.
Adr. Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Regionala enheten, Box 50007, S-104 05 Stockholm
Jan-Erik Bergh disputerade på en avhandling om insekters flygaktivitet i samband med kallfrontpassager. Han har arbetat som lärare i biologi och kemi, som museianställd med frågor rörande museiklimat, skadeinsekter och korrosion och innehar nu en tjänst som universitetslektor i biologi vid Högskolan Dalarna. Han är forskningsansvarig inom PRE-MAL och undersöker insekters överlevnad i vakuum och kvävgasatmosfär.
Adr. Högskolan Dalarna, Kultur och Lärande,
S-791 88 Falun
From Nordisk Museologi 1998/1: SUMMARY pp. 83-88
The paper describes a research project carried out at the Department of Museology, Umeå University, the aim of which was to compare Swedish history as taught in the schools and as told in the exhibitions of four regional and municipal museums. The discrepancy between the political history approach in school books and the regional and local history exhibited in the museums is evident. Its cause is probably to be found in the 'nature' of the museum, with its cultural history approach based on an archaeological and ethnological analysis of material remains from the past. The national perspective abruptly confronts a local perspective and often - due to the traditional training of the schoolteachers using the exhibitions - it is difficult to reconcile them to each other in a meaningful way. Interviews with museum visitors show that the resulting view of the past is normally a mixture of information from many sources which is projected onto the exhibition rather than an acceptance of the interpretations offered in the texts that accompany the objects. The paper concludes by suggesting that closer collaboration between museum curators and researchers representing contemporary branches of history such as gender oriented and social history now established at universities might enhance the quality and coherence of history as told in museum exhibitions.
Bengt Lundberg är FD i historia och prefekt för museologiska institutionen vid Umeå universitet.
Adr Institutionen för museologi, Umeå universitet,
S-901 87 Umeå
Fax +46-90 16 66 72
From Nordisk Museologi 1998/1: SUMMARY pp. 89-94
It looks like a museum
A visit to The Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT) in Los Angeles is the starting-point for a short questioning of the mixture of scientific truth and poetic fiction in museum collections and their presentations. The MJT uses the traditional presentational methods of museums in a manner that subtly unnerves the visitor because of the extraordinary and bizarre themes it treats. Exhibits are professionally displayed and lighted, commented on with the perverse predeliction for abstruse detail characteristic of museum curators. But it turns out that many of the narratives are fictional and the material evidence faked. It lookss to the marvels of the Renaissance cabinets of curiosities as a source of inspiration and argues that it is necessary to stimulate the visitor's reflections on the construction of truth in museums. It is, finally, a healthy reminder of the hazards of the curator's trade.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Boulevard, Culver City,
Los Angeles, US
Clara Åhlvik är utställningschef vid BO 01.
Adr. BO 01 kansli, Valborgsgatan 10,
S-216 13 Malmö.
Fax: +46-40 362470.
From Nordisk Museologi 1998/1: SUMMARY pp. 95-108
A travelling exhibition reviewed
The author describes his work with an Alvar Aalto-exhibition. The project started on a visit to Helsinki in 1965 (cf. Nordisk Museologi 1997/1). He was given the opportunity to portray Aalto and his work in a travelling exhibition produced by Riksutställningar, Stockholm, in 1970. He dwells on the design of the exhibition in great detail, comparing it with an exhibition produced by Aalto himself at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm in 1968. He tried to achieve the same atmosphere as Aalto, but this led to difficult technical problems - how to link the freestanding panels, how to arrange shelves at proper angles on the walls and how to arrange the elements of the exhibitions in the various settings offered during the exhibition's travels. He also touches on the more general problems of 'pure' and 'mixed' exhibitions, a topic which was often debated in the late 60s and early 70s among producers and designers of exhibitions.
Gösta Salén är konsthistoriker och utställningsproducent. I den sistnämnde egenskapen har han fram till sin pensionering för några år sedan varit knuten till Riksutställningar, Stockholm.
Adr: Drottningholmsvägen 76, S-112 42 Stockholm