The Emerging Museums of Europe


Museums of cultural history have been regarded as effective instruments of national identity-building, as well as powerful symbols of nationhood. Nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe abounded with examples of museums that fulfilled this function. At the turn of the millenium, however, we are seeing the beginnings of a new trend in European museology: the creation of transnational, pan-European cultural history museums. Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK) was established in Berlin in 1999, and le Musée de l’Europe (MDE) in Brussels opened a prefigurative exhibition in2001. Le Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MCEM) has a pilot team in place in Marseille and plans to open its doors in 2008.

Further, Torino has for some timebeen planning to establish a similar institution. This phenomenon raises some questions. What are the motives behind these new cultural constructions? Do they spring from the same needs and do they have similar aims? As they are all situated in EU countries, one might ask: Are there political motives? Do they aim to break down national identities and to support trans-and post-national identity-building? If so, will a breaking-down of national identities necessarily mean a European identity, or will they perhaps support

regional movements and regional identities? Or are the new museums mainly a corollary of an intrascientific development, of new trends in ethnology and adjacent fields?

A closer look at these institutions – real or planned – reveals both similarities and differences in background, in ideologies, and in museological programmes.

How to Cite

Rogan, B., (2003) “The Emerging Museums of Europe”, Ethnologia Europaea 33(1), 51-60. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Bjarne Rogan (University of Oslo)



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