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Biomedicine in museums

Analysing museums beyond the national framework

In small ethnically homogenous countries like Denmark, Poland and Finland, there is a thick aura of nationalism around museums. For that reason alone, the planned conference on ‘Transnational History of Museums’, 17-18 February 2012 seems like a relief.

Organised by the Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik at TU-Berlin, the aim of the conference is to go beyond the national framework in analysing the museum institution:

Temple of muses, custodian of cultural heritage, site of memory, space for the mediation of taste and knowledge: The functions of the museum are manifold and are given different emphases, depending on the type of museum and the disciplinary outlook. However, the argument that the institution is a major venue for the construction of national identity has recurred again and again since the first royal collections were opened to the public around the middle of the eighteenth century. Indeed, the number of museum foundations was particularly high in Europe during the nineteenth century, when the modern nation-state was being established. Yet the tight linkage between nation-building and the birth of public collections has increasingly been called into question by recent scholarly work on the history of museums. Instead, local traditions have been stressed or international comparisons have been drawn upon in order to explain policies of collecting, the display of exhibits or the architectural design of individual galleries.

The planned conference will reflect from a transnational perspective upon the purposes and concepts of museums, museum practices, and the perception of museum culture:

  • Which models from abroad were imported by museum representatives in order to give their own collections a certain profile?
  • To what extent were “foreign” principles of order and hanging appropriated?
  • Can the international networks on which museum experts relied be reconstructed?
  • How can we describe the activities of commissions that were assigned to explore the organisation of museums beyond their geographic borders?
  • Did an internationally inspired taste have any influence on the planning, the architectural settings or the compositions of collections?
  • Do documents such as letters, travelogues or diaries written by museum visitors give concrete indications of a comparative, transnational perception?

Central to the conference is the discussion of the museum as a space of, even product of, cross-border processes of exchange and transfer. Seen from this angle, an examination of the museum of art, in particular, is to be carried out, also taking into account archaeological and historico-cultural collections, arts and crafts museums and the so-called universal museums inside and outside of Europe.

The conference will be held 17-18 February at TU-Berlin. Short proposals (approx. 150 words) for papers not exceeding 30 minutes should be sent by 15 June to Bénédicte Savoy ( or Andrea Meyer ( Be prepared to listen to contributions in German and French as well 🙂

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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