Patterns of Cultural Valuation (completed)

The project investigates how different ethnic groups and minorities have been presented and represented in Norwegian museums of cultural history during the last 150 years.

About the project

In today’s plural societies most museums of cultural history, also in Norway, have to face new challenges. They are continuously redefining their roles in society and adapting new ideas and methods to their museological endeavours. The research field of museums of cultural history in Norway and their representations of ethnic groups and minorities opens for a broad range of perspectives and issues. Norway has a long history of being a plural society. Today, it includes an indigenous population, five national minorities and a growing population of foreign origin from both Western and non-Western countries.

The project investigates the role of museums of cultural history in shaping representations of the nation, the region and the locality during a span of time going from the 19th century to today. The situation of Norwegian museums of cultural history reflects that of other museums around the world and our project takes Norwegian museums as case studies of wider international trends. We are interested in the ways various cultures that make up the social fabric of Norway have been integrated in the national Grand Narrative. This implies among others analyzing similarities and differences, cross-cultural contacts and hybridity within the framework of the nation-state.


The aim of the project is to analyze representations of diversity in museums of cultural history and to explore the dialectics between historical narratives and perceptions of culture and belongingness and the ways these narratives are conveyed visually in exhibitions. In our use the notion of diversity encompasses a great number of complex issues pertaining to ethnicity, religion, social class, education, economy, gender, age and lifestyle. We examine how exhibitions draw upon and reproduce older models and stereotypes about the nation and Norwegianess, how new visions and paradigms are introduced, and which visual and aesthetic schemes are applied in exhibitions. In addition, the project is concerned with the ways ethnic groups and minorities represent themselves in their own museums. To do this we have chosen two main analytical perspectives.

One is Self and the Other. We introduce the notion of concerted action and analyze how different groups influence each other, cooperate or choose different paths to represent themselves. Thus, we investigate the tension between frontiers and walls. In our analyses frontiers are spaces where exchanges may take place. They are pliable, do not hinder circulation and may be changed. Walls are solid constructions and are of a more permanent nature. To find a way out one has either to climb over them, go round them, dig tunnels under them or to pull them down. These perspectives place our project within a wider international context which entails a reflection on the interplay between the autochthonous and the allochtonous and how the notion of foreignness is relational and contingent to various political, social, religious, economical, gender and generational factors.

The other theoretical perspective is Aesthetics and Visuality. We examine the ways the national narrative and the history of a minority are conveyed visually and aestheticized in exhibitions and the kind of museological approaches that are applied. Expanding the concept of intervisuality we study polyphonic narratives and how exhibitions build on each other and relate to other exhibitions. This perspective provides a basis for the classification of different genres of narratives and for recognizing the aesthetic approaches that are being used to communicate them. We investigate the use of multimedia devices, art installations and the production of experiences for audiences.


The development of museums of cultural history is linked to the history of the nation-state, to the elaboration of a national identity and to ‘rituals of citizenship’ in the sense of prompting a sense of belongingness. It also relates to what has been called the "exhibitionary complex", which in its actual form consists of sites where knowledge is produced, institutionalized and disseminated by resorting to different methods of representation. A number of museums of cultural history partake in enterprises where culture, politics and economics are interlinked, and where programs of sustainable development mainly through service sectors that promote tourism, the production and consumption of cultural local goods and crafts are important assets. In the case of museums of cultural history this has led them to reconsider their role in society, their relationships with the collections they are responsible for and their exhibition policies. It has made them acknowledge among others that the idea of a monolithic, undifferentiated national identity is becoming an anachronism.

One of the main issues museums of cultural history have had to address in the past thirty years or so concerns the representations of cultural diversity and how to harmonize between multivocal cultural memories embodied in their collections and exhibitions. How to manage the transition from being authoritative institutions of established knowledge and learning to becoming ‘authorities of recognition’ and play an increasingly active role in promoting social cohesion in plural societies?


  • Inscribing the Urban at the Folk Museum
  • Representations of the City
  • The Aesthetics of national History
  • Between Images of Strangers and Self: Norwegian as an Ethnographic Exhibition Object and Ethnic Self-Representation
  • National Archetypes: From Isolated to Interconnected


The project received financial support from the Norwegian Research Council 2008-2011.


International project network:

Professor Peter Aronsson, Tema Q, Linköpings Universitet

Professor Simon Knell, University of Leicester

Published Apr. 9, 2010 2:42 PM - Last modified Feb. 19, 2018 3:25 PM


Project manager:
Saphinaz-Amal Naguib  


Detailed list of participants