I Am Becoming Museology

I’ve blogged before about becoming an archaeological dad, when new work built upon and superseded stuff I did in the 90s. Now stuff I did in the 00s has become, if not history, then at least museology, in the pages of Dr. Carl-Johan Svensson’s PhD thesis in didactics (freely available on-line as a 2.4 MB PDF file). He presented his thesis yesterday at the School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University.

Ten years ago I was involved a drawn-out and pretty violent public dispute about the policies of the then director of the Museum of Swedish History – which is misnamed because its collections are almost entirely Prehistory and Medieval church art. This man had worked at the Ministry of Culture where he had written a new instruction for the museum, involving wordings about greater contemporary societal relevance, and then he’d applied for the job as director and gotten it. He soon fired almost everyone who had archaeological training and instead hired museum generalist staff. He filled the halls with modern art commenting on the Holocaust, probably because the Prime Minister at the time was using genocide awareness as his ticket to international statesmanly recognition. And then the whole thing blew up in the museum director’s face when an installation about a Palestinian suicide bomber was vandalised on camera by the Israeli ambassador and Israel threatened to boycott the Swedish Holocaust Conference. (The ambassador’s actions later received a reward for installation art!)

Anyway, the reason I cared was that the resources of the country’s main museum for prehistoric archaeology were being used for politically opportunistic and thematically irrelevant purposes. Though many of my post-modernist colleagues really, really want to believe that we have a considerable impact on politics, we don’t actually. When was the last time the words “Middle Neolithic” were uttered in Swedish Parliament? The museum director certainly agreed with me on this point. He wasn’t interested in old arrowheads. But he was interested in politics.

The subtitle of Dr. Svensson’s book is “Public debate about the audience-oriented activity of the Swedish History Museum from The Swedish History to History of Sweden.” The two latter are the names of exhibitions that opened at the museum in 1992 and 2011. I don’t quite understand why this is didactics, but then I’ve never been able to understand the distinction between pedagogy and didactics either. The book aims to

“contribute knowledge on how basic didactic questions regarding a national museum have been answered in public debate over time. Standpoints on what should be exhibited, how this should be done, to/with whom the mediation of history should be addressed / communicated and, what mission in society The Swedish History Museum’s is considered to have, are summed up in the concept of ‘exhibition ideal’” and also “to put the publicly expressed positions on The Swedish History Museum in a wider historical-cultural context.”

I’m quite proud that Dr. Svensson has paid so much attention to what I said back then, putting me into a canon as it were, though his transcriptions of stuff I said on TV aren’t very accurate. And he thankfully spells my name correctly 20 times out of 21. I don’t like it when he calls me an essentialist, but then this is in the context of one Gerald L. Gutek’s four-type classification scheme for education philosophies (Dr. Svensson, Gutek is not in your bibliography!), not in the sense that humanities scholars generally use that word, so it’s OK.

If you’re into museology and the role of archaeological museums in society, then this is a book for you. Pp. 325-332 is an English summary not listed in the book’s table of contents.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

15 thoughts on “I Am Becoming Museology”

  1. (slightly OT) Museum + China:
    “Right is Wrong / Four Decades of Chinese Art” http://umea2014.se/en/event/kinesisk-samtidskonst/
    -During the Cultural Revolution the art schools were closed, and Chinese artists had to teach themselves, often in secret. Many of the 40 artists represented are still blacklisted in China. (the exhibition last until October, so Martin et al. will have plenty of time to visit)


  2. “Pp. 325-332 is an English summary not listed in the book’s table of contents.”

    Actually, pp. 325-332 is a garbled Swenglish summary that could have done with the attention of a native English speaker. Then it might have been possible to understand it without having to deconstruct every other sentence!


  3. 20th Century is correct. Location is Hong Kong (so not near any of the WWI theatres).

    It is a grave.

    At the rear of the grave were a quarry, extracting granite, and a 50m wide syenite dyke running through the granite which was mined for kaolin. As the workings progressively undermined the back of the grave, the ‘claimant’ of the grave built the brick structure to maintain support to it.

    A tomb-on-quarry


  4. The front configuration of the grave is very common in Hong Kong, and there are numerous such graves scattered everywhere on hillsides. But none other that I have seen has such an impressive or mystifying looking supporting structure.

    The structure has been the subject of much head-scratching over the years because most people don’t climb up to see what is at the front – which is just a grave, nothing more.


  5. I agree with Jane @ #3.

    The WA museum has a very extensive Aboriginal collection, but currently has no space to display any of it. (This is a sort of parallel to the ‘arrowhead’ story.)

    In my (very strong) opinion, if there is no space for the Aboriginal history of Western Australia, then there is no space for anything.


  6. jane @ 3,
    -In the age of the internet, surely authors can forward a text to an English specialist to catch the Swenglish terms and phrases and edit them before publication…
    “though his transcriptions of stuff I said on TV aren’t very accurate” -Is it complicated to get to view the original footage? These two details seem to add up to a thesis written in some haste. OK he had hundreds of pages to edit, but it is still annoying.


  7. But John, the Aborigines were only there for fifty millennia. And the Europeans have been there for a whole two hundred years. It is like the Republican “four billion wasted by the poor is more than five billion wasted by the rich” thing.


  8. Problem 1: Definition of Aboriginal. There are very strong objections to ‘genetic’ definitions – so you can be legally Aboriginal while having zero Aboriginal ancestry.

    Problem 2: ‘Recreation’ of ‘spiritual beliefs’ by people who were never culturally Aboriginal because they are not Aboriginal.

    So you get complete nonsense like the ‘taboo’ against showing images of people who are deceased – so that immediately means no old photographic history of Aboriginal people can be displayed publicly. It has to be viewed in dark corners, in secret, like pornography.

    So the extensive display that was contained in the museum when I was a kid is now in the storage drawers, because some pretending-Aboriginal people invented some pretending-cultural reasons why it should not be seen.

    This has nothing to do with Republicans. There are no Republicans in Australia. The far right wing Prime Minister of Australia would plot quite some way to the left of Barack Obama on most things. Not that I care – I detest all politics, and all politicians. This has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with stupidity.


  9. (OT)
    Goddammit! Rik Mayall has died, aged 56. He played the politician Alan b’Stard in The New Statesman, and the anarchist in The Young Ones.


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