Voices from the Museum : Qualitative Research Conducted in Europe's National Museums
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AbstractThis study presents the findings from interviews and focus groups carried out at six European national museums with visitors and minority groups. It looks at the connections that can be made between national, European and minority identities and how these frame very different experiences of the national museum. Whilst visitors were, on the whole, convinced that national museums represented a shared, collective identity, the inclusion of minority groups in the research revealed a discernible dissonance between the majority of visitor’s views and the views of minority groups. Despite collectively forming a substantial section of the European population, minority experiences were largely absent from national museums, a situation that is rarely recognised by museum visitors. Personal and national identity was especially complex and important to minorities because they were constantly negotiating their relationship with the dominant culture, but the silence in national museums and lack of recognition of their contribution to national society only confirmed their status as “Other” when they wanted to belong. In response, this study calls on national museums to be more conscious of unheard voices and experiences, and be more actively aware that national and European identity is continually evolving, fluid and dynamic. The challenge for national museums is to embrace these elements and to become places of dialogue not didacticism, of exploration not certainty, and of inclusion not silence. National museums are valued as important and authoritative institutions by their visitors but they need to harness this authority more responsibly and proactively if they are to enhance national and European understanding. The report is produced within the three-year research programme, EuNaMus – European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, coordinated at Tema Q at Linköping University (www.eunamus.eu). EuNaMus explores the creation and power of the heritage created and presented at European national museums to the world, Europe and its states, as an unsurpassable institution in contemporary society. National museums are defined and explored as processes of institutionalized negotiations where material collections and displays make claims and are recognized as articulating and representing national values and realities. Questions asked in the project are why, by whom, when, with what material, with what result and future possibilities are these museums shaped.