This field trip to Berlin supported by the UACES Scholarship investigated the role of networks in shaping museum practice internationally and national museums’ role in citizens’ identity formation and the challenges this presents to national museums in EU member states.
The aim of this project was to contribute to the fieldwork for my PhD thesis ‘UK-EU Changing Relationship and its Impact on UK National Museums: A study of the time period 1991-2021’. A literature review suggested that networks enhance EU integration because they facilitate the sharing of traditions, practices, and history at arms-length from the EU. Initial research into the case-study museums identified that the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO) has had a particular influence on two out of three of my chosen case studies, namely Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and The Victoria and Albert Museum (2 of only 4 UK members of NEMO). NEMO is an independent network of national museum organisations which represents the community of museums, from member states. It disseminates information on European funding opportunities and policies relating to museum practice. It was therefore essential for my PhD that I better understood the role of NEMO and the impact that this organisation has had on the chosen case studies. The UACES grant provided me with the time to review documents produced by NEMO and engage in informal conversations to thoroughly investigate how it has impacted European museum practices ranging from funding to touring exhibitions and research collaborations. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, an interview that was scheduled with a staff member at NEMO has had to be postponed and so will be conducted online in May.
Also emerging from my PhD research is evidence of a conflict between UK national museums’ role in nation-state building and national identity formation, and the role of EU funding in supporting projects which encouraged UK citizens to develop a European identity. A memorandum from 1977 notes the ‘absence of ‘Europe’ in national museums and suggests that member states’ national museums should have a dedicated room to Europe. Whilst there is no evidence of this suggestions uptake by the case study museums, in 2006 the Deutsches Historisches Museum (DHM), a national museum in Berlin, used its permanent collection to explore the theme “from where the Germans have come, who they are in the European context” in the exhibition titled „Deutsche Geschichte vom Mittelalter bis zum Mauerfall“ which has since closed. With the support of UACES, I have been able to access documents such as the DHM’s permanent collection catalogue and was provided with the opportunity to visit ‘Karl Marx and Capitalism’ and ‘Richard Wagner and the Nationalization of Feeling’, current exhibitions at the DHM. Both exhibitions presented the question ‘what is it to be German?’ and bought about discussions of nationalism, European identity and culture and national belonging. The grant also enabled me to visit The Humboldt Forum and Museum Europäischer Kulturen, another national museum, dedicated to displaying European everyday culture from the 18th century until today. This research has provided me with a better understanding of how these German museums have presented topics of nationality in the European context.
Without the support of UACES, I would not have been able to conduct this fieldwork, and I am truly grateful to the organisation for its support which has allowed me to progress with my PhD.