Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)



A European research project, EuNaMus was concerned with understanding how the national museum can best aid European cohesion and confront the social issues which test its stability and unity.

Funded under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission, the project was managed by an interdisciplinary team from eight university institutions:

  • Linköping University
  • University of Leicester
  • University of the Aegean
  • Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
  • University of Tartu
  • University of Oslo
  • University of Bologna
  • Central European University (Kozep-Europai Egyetem)

EuNaMus was designed to deliver a comprehensive statement on the future role of national museums in a changing Europe and look for new and subtle ways to understand modern Europeans’ relationship with history and material culture. It aimed at creating a strong platform for comparative museum studies and producing vital knowledge for cultural policy makers, museum professionals and citizens through five key areas of research:

  • Mapping and framing institutions 1750 – 2010 provided the intellectual foundations for the project, a sophisticated understanding of the nature and diversity of national museums across Europe.
  • Uses of the Past looked at the overt construction of historical narratives and the museum’s role in the construction of nations and Europe.
  • The Museology of Europe considered how notions of Europe are embodied implicitly within material culture.
  • Museum policies 1990 – 2010 sought to understand how national museums have been involved in the development and implementation of government policy, with a focus on contemporary issues including diversity, inclusion and migration.
  • Museum citizens explored how national museums are seen and negotiated from the citizen’s perspective.

RCMG's role in EuNaMus

Working in collaboration with the University of the Aegean, RCMG contributed to Museum Citizens, which built on contextual knowledge derived from previous research themes to examine visitor experiences at national museums: to explore the understanding and use of national museums by the public, to map public understanding of the nation and Europe in the present and to explore how visitors use the past to construct national and European identities. An integral part of the research was to explore the responses of different groups to the national museum such as minority groups as well as different types of museum visitors (national and non-national).

Both quantitative and qualitative data was collected from visitors to national museums, this report focuses on the findings of the qualitative data collected from six national museums:

  • Estonian National Museum (Tartu)
  • Latvian Open-Air Museum (Riga)
  • National History Museum (Athens, Greece)
  • German Historical Museum (Berlin)
  • National Museum of Ireland (Collin’s Barracks branch, Dublin)
  • National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)

Key findings

Visitors’ personal and national identity was evolving and complex. How visitors defined their European identity and how it fitted in with other aspects of their identity could not be assumed. European identity could not simply be ‘bolted on.’ Visitors have a view on the nation and Europe prior to their museum visit, they use the museum to reinforce or support these existing views. However, the type of museum, its content, layout interpretation and mode of display, does have an impact on how these views are ‘constructed.’ There is evidence that people feel European, but not as strongly as national identity. The political context of the research was critical for understanding visitor reflections on Europe and, specifically, the on-going economic crisis may have strengthened negative attitudes towards the EU.

A sense of belonging, the need to feel part of ‘something bigger,’ seemed to be an important part of national identity for most visitors and minority groups. National museums could support or reinforce a sense of belonging, but only for those who already belonged to the nation. Those participants who were excluded from the national story had a stronger need to feel a sense of belonging. The national museums in this study could do much more to represent, and reflect on, contemporary national issues and identities which would enable everyone in the nation to feel included.

  • What is the purpose of the national museum in relation to national identities? How well do museums communicate that purpose?
  • How tacit or explicit are the messages museums give visitors about national identity?
  • Identity is complex, evolving, and dynamic. How much potential do national museums have to be part of this active open-ended process?

Whilst visitors were, on the whole, convinced that national museums represented a shared, collective identity, the inclusion of minority groups in the research revealed a discernible dissonance between the majority of visitor’s views and the views of minority groups. Despite collectively forming a substantial section of the European population, minority experiences were largely absent from national museums, a situation that is rarely recognised by museum visitors. Personal and national identity was especially complex and important to minorities because they were constantly negotiating their relationship with the dominant culture, but the silence in national museums and lack of recognition of their contribution to national society only confirmed their status as “Other” when they wanted to belong.

In response, this study calls on national museums to be more conscious of unheard voices and experiences, and be more actively aware that national and European identity is continually evolving, fluid and dynamic. The challenge for national museums is to embrace these elements and to become places of dialogue not didacticism, of exploration not certainty, and of inclusion not silence. National museums are valued as important and authoritative institutions by their visitors but they need to harness this authority more responsibly and proactively if they are to enhance national and European understanding.


Voices from the Museum: Qualitative Research Conducted in Europe's National  Museums (Full report, 2012)

In July 2013, RCMG held a series of presentations of the key findings of the research with staff from selected national museums involved in the research study: at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh and National Museums Ireland in Dublin

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