Ethnographic museums across Europe
Museums which shed a light on people and culture
Museums which shed a light on people and culture
Ethnographic museums are a specialised form of history museum that conserve, display and contextualise items relevant to the study of people and their histories. Ethnographic museums aim to give relevance to different cultures around the world, rather than just emphasising the chronology in the presentation of the various collections.
In this blog, we've gathered four ethnographic museums in different countries around Europe, which showcase cultures and traditions that may not be very known worldwide, in order to promote cultural tourism in European territories.
San Pellegrino in Alpe is the highest permanently inhabited area in the Apennine mountain range in Italy. It is both a part of two municipalities and two provinces, as well as two regions. Despite being geographically located on the Tuscan side of the Apennines, it constitutes an administrative part of Emilia-Romagna.
Since the Middle Ages, pilgrims and merchants have passed through San Pellegrino in Alpe. This made the village a crossing point that has hosted and seen many cultures throughout the centuries.
The Ethnographic Museum 'Don Luigi Pellegrini' preserves a collection of material culture objects.
It was created by Don Luigi Pellegrini in order to protect the traditions and aspects of life that have now almost completely disappeared from the rural civilisation of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. The collection hosts objects from the beginning of the 19th century to the present day: however, such tools have been used for centuries, and represent the material culture of a much more ancient civilisation.
The objects the museum collects come from the Appennine slopes both from the Tuscan and Emilian side, making it possible to make comparisons between the lives led in both areas that (although neighbouring and being historically linked through 400 years of Este family domination) have maintained distinct social, economic and linguistic characteristics.
Inspired by Skansen in Stockholm, the world’s oldest open air museum, the Hungarian Open Air Museum is the largest open air collection in Hungary, showing Carpathian folk architecture and life in various areas of Hungary. The museum covers 46 hectares, and is divided into eight parts, consisting of small villages each dedicated to a specific ethnographic region.
The museum undertakes research into Hungarian folk architecture, furnishings and traditional life. It collects and preserves tangible and intangible artefacts in places where Hungarian is spoken, in order to safeguard this heritage and provide access to this kind of knowledge.
Alongside the permanent museum, it also hosts numerous temporary exhibitions. To give visitors an authentic picture of Hungarian ancient and rustic life, it’s possible to find master craftspeople working in the museum's courtyards, medicinal herbs and food being processed in its kitchens, and sheep grazing in pastures.
The Alytus Museum of Ethnography has a vast legacy: founded in 1928 under as an initiative of the local intelligentsia, it holds more than 100,000 historical, ethnographic and archaeological, photographic (and more) antiques in nature, all from districts Alytus, Varėna, Lazdijai and Druskininka in southern Lithuania.
The museum hosts antiquities that originate from the Mesolithic period up until 2009, giving an extensive view on southern Lithuanian history.
The most famous objects of the museum are authentic monuments of natural, ethnic and spiritual culture.
It also houses many science and technology objects that help to speculate and study occupations, crafts, and overall everyday life of people in past centuries. Authentic documents and objective material depicting the history of rebellions, wars, resistance movements, deportation, exile and armed resistance also depict a side of the culture that is often overlooked in ethnographic museums.
The collections of the National Museum of Ethnology in Lisbon holds the most relevant ethnographic heritage of Portugal.
The museum has two separate collections. The first, with pieces from the 'Popular Art Museum', was assembled mostly in the 1930s and early 1940s for propaganda exhibitions promoted by the dictatorship regime of Estado Novo, which began in 1933. The second collection holds representative objects of 80 countries and 5 continents, with greater emphasis on cultures from Africa, Asia and South America, and, most of all, traditional Portuguese culture.
Since 2000, objects - such as traditional agricultural technologies, traditional music instruments and home utensils - have been displayed in the museum's Portuguese Rural Life Galleries. The vast majority of these objects were gathered in the 1960s and 1970s, but also date back to earlier periods.
Furthermore, in January 2013, the museum presented its permanent exhibition 'The museum, many things'. It is built around seven different sets of objects which change regularly, in order to offer visitors different foods for thought. The great diversity of the collections can be discovered not only in the permanent and temporary exhibitions, but also in the museum's storage rooms, which are also accessible if booked in advance.
Since its creation, the museum has organised around 40 exhibitions, some of which became a landmark regarding the knowledge of the worlds explored and analysed in the publications that followed them.
Ethnographic museums offer a way to analyse history and culture from a point of view that is sometimes overlooked: more from the perspective of the people than historical events. Culture, tradition and folklore are fundamental for current generations to better understand our heritage and to preserve customs to pass to the next, while also disseminating them around the world.