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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

TRAUM: Transforming Author Museums

Alternative title: TRAUM: Forfattarmuseum i endring

Awarded: NOK 8.8 mill.

We often think of author museums as places of an old-fashioned cult of national heroes or just for fans. They are often housed in what was once a home and attempt to convey a special aura around the space and various objects the author once owned. What do they tell us about the author's writing, we ask? Or about the world we live in? This research project - run by the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with the University of Oslo - brought together theoretical and hands-on expertise on literature, history, museums and tourism. We investigated how author museums respond to new ways of thinking culture, literature and exhibitions. What has been and what will be the role of author museums in creating cultural identity and debate? What kinds of innovations are/could they be making in order to represent lives and literature? Why do people visit author museums today? Can author museums learn from other ways of exhibiting literature, and from new ways of making exhibitions in general? A working hypothesis was that the answers to these questions lie in the way in which author museums interlink real and literary spaces, biographies, texts, objects and readers. With this in mind, we have studied regional, national (in Norway authors writing in both the bokmål and nynorsk standard variants) and international examples from Europe, South Africa, USA and Japan. Our results give insight into the role of literature in contemporary societies and the pedagogic and democratic potential of museums. However, they show that author museums still tend to exhibit "high culture", male authors. Where are marginalised authors such as migrants or writers of popular fiction? Our field research and analysis has also shown that author museums in recent years have focused more on literature's relevance in social contexts. New forms of museums such as the new author centres in Norway point to this tendency and help to showcase otherwise un-heard author voices. Authors and their homes hide in them difficult historical legacies, as in the cases of Knut Hamsun and the history of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Aulestad. The positioning of authors in museums as national icons has become increasingly challenged. Yet, many author home museums continue to emphasize the author's biography over her literature, often giving strong focus to the place of writing (the writer's desk) as the connecting point between life and literature. They rely on 19th-century images of the author as national hero. We have developed and highlighted alternative approaches such as a focus on the local and the transnational, on networks and on the visitor as reader. Authors, their texts, their readers, and visitors often move beyond their national confines, and museums may bridge cultural borders in catering for international visitors. Authors can be celebrated in a museum in another country than their own; there are August Strindberg, W. H. Auden, José Saramago and Mori Ogai museums outside their nations' borders. Author museums partake in place-branding and experience creation, and increasingly cater to international visitors who may not be familiar with the authorship concerned. To continue functioning in postmodern, democratized and globalized contexts, museums have increasingly moved away from being torchbearers of heritage to being experiential centres and cultural hubs, forcing them to take on double roles and to go beyond their own confines. We have focused on the importance of both self-identity and social identity for the motivations of author museum visitors. Questionnaires answered by visitors to the Ibsen Museum in Oslo and the Hamsunsenteret on Hamarøy have shown that visitors are mostly motivated by the need for recreation. In countries which have recently undergone major political and social transformations, author museums can become local places of negotiation of historical narratives and of inclusion, as reflected in the museal strategies used for example in the Olive Schreiner museum in South Africa. Our more historical research has shown that author museums can often be strongly connected not only to the social and national status of authors, but also to the way in which their work has envisaged homes and houses. Ibsen's uneasy relationship to homes, both in his life and in his plays, made it difficult to see his dwellings as being "Ibsen houses". Selma Lagerlöf's Mårbacka was an attempt to right the wrongs of a haunted past, a strong theme also in her novels. A focus on the way in which homes, houses and ghosts feature in the lives and writings of authors may provide new ways strategies for exhibiting literature. The project has created forums for engagement with museum staff at literary museums in Norway and abroad, and also entered into collaborations concerning visitor motivations and innovative exhibition strategies with Hamsunsenteret, the Ibsen Museum in Oslo, Perspektivet museum and Wien Museum.

Forskingsprosjektet har styrka og flytta fokus i den internasjonale forskinga på forfattarmuseum og forståinga av ein utvida forfattar-/litteraturmuseumssjanger som er i sterk endring. Den tverrfaglege samansetjinga i prosjektet har bidrege til innovative kombinasjonar av kvalitative og kvantitative tilnærmingar i forskinga på musea si samfunnsrolle. Prosjektet har gjeve ei monaleg kompetanseheving i kunnskapsutveksling med museumsarbeidarar og andre i kultursektoren. Prosjektet har hatt direkte samarbeid med Ibsenmuseet i Oslo, Hamsunsenteret, Perspektivet museum og Wien Museum, og involvert tilsette i ei rekkje forfattar- og litteraturmuseum i Noreg og i utlandet. Konkret har prosjektet bidrege til nettverksbygging og meir tverrfagleg, tverrseksjonelt og internasjonalt samarbeid, gjennom si eiga heimeside (, ei facebook-gruppe, lesegrupper, workshops og konferansar. Offentlege panelsamtalar, radio- og avisintervju har formidla kunnskap til eit allment publikum.

What roles have author museums as creators of cultural identity? What kind of representations do they use to communicate knowledge about literature and its authors? How are real and literary spaces, texts and objects interlinked? Author museums, in the public imagination often associated with an old-fashioned cult of the author, are being transformed into interactive spaces in line with changing understandings of literature, developments in exhibition practices and larger processes of democratization. This interdisciplinary project will provide analyses of museums as cultural texts and performative spaces of memory and production. In the past years, the alleged crisis of the humanities has been a recurring topic of debate. While criticism has been levelled at humanities for lack of relevance, informal polls made in various countries across Europe asking for the most important personality in national history have consistently placed artists on the top, often writers, and in the case of Norway, Henrik Ibsen. There is a paradoxical relationship between the discourse of the uselessness of humanities and the actual interest in and identification with some of its actors. The project aims to investigate how and why (certain) writers and literature have been turned into cultural heritage, helped by the display of auratic places such as their homes in combination with the aestheticization of personal "relics" within specific cultural-political contexts. Combining humanities, social sciences and artistic perspectives, it will critically reflect on existing and historical exhibition strategies and consider alternative and innovative ways of displaying literature, focusing on the potentials of author museums and other literary museums and centres as sites of cultural production and literary creativity. On a meta-level the project will contribute to a better understanding of how to communicate the relevance of humanities to the public.

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam