SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Dwelling(s): museum practice meets ethnology
Location VG 2.103
Date and Start Time 27 March, 2017 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • Hester Dibbits (Reinwardt Academy for Cultural Heritage) email
  • Uta Karrer (University of Basel) email
  • Lizette Gradén (The Royal Armory, Skokloster Castle and the Hallwyl Museum) email

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Short Abstract

This panel brings together current practices in collecting, documenting and presenting ways of dwelling in museum settings with ethnological research on the same topic. The panel is organised by the Working Group Museums and Material Culture.

Long Abstract

Over the past decades, as in the past, museums and heritage institutions have been developing projects on dwelling and closely related topics such as - to mention but a few - community life, migration and mobility, and interior decoration. Aiming to include a growing range of perspectives and audiences, these projects often took a participative approach, with curators embarking on ethnographic fieldwork, reaching out to specific city neighborhoods or (less often) rural areas.

In other cases, and more and more often, artists or artistic designers were invited by the museum, to become embedded in a community, and to share their experiences through their work with the audiences.

At the same time, incidently sometimes even in the same neighbourhood, researchers from the field of ethnology, social anthropology and folklore studies were busy - as their fellows had been before - to thoroughly investigate dwelling practices by doing archival and ethnographic fieldwork, analyzing their findings by confronting them with conceptual frameworks and theoretical notions of home and belonging, place making, mobility, materiality and identity formation.

What can museum professionals, artists, artistic researchers and ethnologists learn from each other? In what way do their approaches offer new or radical different perspectives on ways of dwelling? Do we share a common ground?

By inviting museum professionals, academics and artists to share and discuss their experiences, we hope to inspire both ethnological research and museum practices and discuss integrative methodological approaches to dwellings in museums.


Displaying museum's neighbourhood: dwelling practices in the single-family house from 1945 until today. A participatory approach to an exhibition.

Author: Cai-Olaf Wilgeroth (Museumsdorf Cloppenburg - Niedersächsisches Freilichtmuseum (Lower Saxonian Open-air Museum))  email

Short Abstract

The Lower Saxonian Open-Air Museum is studying the building and housing of families since 1945. The single-family house is not yet part of the museum's collections. Instead, a residential area next door will be researched and developed together with local residents as a real-life exhibition space.

Long Abstract

For an exhibition project, the Lower Saxonian open-air museum examines the family's way of life in their single-family houses from 1945 to present by means of the associated architecture, material culture and everyday experiences. But the single-family house is not yet part of the museum's collection. For the final exhibition, the museum therefore explores new paths:

Instead of an architectional reconstruction on the museum grounds, a real neighboring residential area with single-family houses of different decades (1930-2015) will be made to the exhibition: For this purpose, museum scientists are exploring the area using historical and ethnographic methods. They focus on the development of buildings, the interiors, the design of the gardens, the neighborhood, the social and generational composition.

Then, together with the inhabitants a presentation of the history and present of their own residential area will be developed, which will then be implemented on the streets and on the houses by exhibitional design means. The aim is to integrate the whole area by mediation elements, as well as to highlight individual examples of families and their houses. The research perspective and the self-perception of the inhabitants are to be combined in this way.

How do the inhabitants react to the intended presentation of their everyday life, which they themselves consider to be not (yet) worthy for the museum? What happens in their self-perception if they are to become curators of their own life? And can the museum reliably fulfill its collection task by incorporating real, non-conservable contexts in its work?

Collecting Suburbia: the period room as an inspiring concept?

Author: Mayke Groffen (Museum Rotterdam)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation will focus on domestic interiors in museums and on a much debated museum tradition: the period room. My approach isn’t confined to the stylish elitist interior from a distant past. To what extent can the period room be an inspiring concept for collecting contemporary interiors?

Long Abstract

Museums have a rich tradition in the field of housing culture, varying from urban planning and architecture to lifestyle and interior. Probably, the most debated museum tradition regarding housing culture is the period room. In the 1970s and 1980s many period rooms have been dismantled and banned into depots. Recently there seems to be a revival. For example, the reopened Dutch Rijksmuseum proudly presents the Beuningkamer. This rich 18th-century rococo interior from an Amsterdam canal house had been stored since 1976.

The museological concept of the period room is, however, not confined to the stylish elitist interior from a distant past. In this presentation I will look at different concepts of the post-war period room, taking into account variables of style, period, class, personae, etc. A special case in this respect is the living room of a fictional persona, which was acquired by Museum Rotterdam in 2001. I will reflect on the history and composition of this very common constructed interior, and also on challenges to keep this ensemble up to date. On a higher level of abstraction, I want to explore to what extent period rooms like these can be an inspiring concept for collecting contemporary interiors.

Working as curator of modern city culture at Museum Rotterdam, I just started my PhD-research on post-war and contemporary domestic interiors. Under the title 'Collecting Suburbia' I want to compare various collecting practices in this field and analyse them in the light of recent museological discussions on contemporary and participative collecting.

Objects of dwellings in the new Museum of Copenhagen

Author: Kirsten Egholk (Museum of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

How do objects of dwellings come to life in the development of the new city museum of Copenhagen? This presentation will focus on the museum collection of both historical and contemporary objects of dwellings and how the museum combines the material and immaterial objects with ethnological research.

Long Abstract

I will invite fellow colleagues backstage to the future exhibitions of the new museum of Copenhagen that will be open to the public in the spring 2018. The museum is moving from one historical building in one district of Copenhagen to another historical building from 1893 in the center of the city. Since the 1960ies and until 1993 this building was the municipal office where Copenhageners could apply for a rental apartment. This story will also be part of the new museum. Both the future museum building and the museum collection contain material cultural heritage as well as immaterial cultural heritage of dwellings in the city. Dwellings seen from a variety of perspectives, drawing upon different media of narration (oral, written, digital) and different museum objects will be part of the exhibition about the development of the city, how the city is constructed and imagined in terms of how people think about their rights to housing and living in the city, the planning of new buildings and housing districts, but also preservation of existing neighborhoods.

Working as an ethnologist and curator at the Museum of Copenhagen, I combine ethnological and historical research with museology including a participatory approach with different audiences and collaboration with students, architects, film producers etc.

The storeroom as promise: the discovery of the ethnological museum depot as a political space in the 1970s

Author: Thomas Thiemeyer (Universität Tübingen)  email

Short Abstract

This talk is about an exhibition format that I call depot exhibition. Depot exhibitions are museum presentations that turn the depot into their subject matter (the so called visible storage is the most well-known variant). This approach has a current appeal especially in German speaking countries.

Long Abstract

This talk is about an exhibition format that I call depot exhibition. Depot exhibitions are museum presentations that turn the depot into their subject matter (the so called visible storage is the most well-known variant). This approach has a current appeal especially in German speaking countries. Actually, it is not new. Its appearance in the 1970s is closely connected with post-colonial debates and coincided with a controversial sociopolitical discourse in which the concept of the depot promised to solve central problems of a particular type of museum that had fallen into the crossfires of criticism: the ethnological museum. I will argue that the idea of the depot exhibition diffused into other types of museums because it made promises that concerned museums as a whole. It is at the root of a reflexive museum praxis that today has captured museums of all kinds and is distinguished by self-criticism and the relinquishment of authority.

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