Who tells your history? and other questions

  “Who tells your history?”, says another intruiging exhibition in the Stockholm National Historical Museum / Historiska Museet (http://www.historiska.se ). I don’t know what musea are like in your country. My experience is that they are usually knowledgeable on the subject they talk about and also a bit arrogant: they are the experts, the way they present things is right. The Stockholm National Historical Museum is a pleasant surprise, unique in its kind. Here is a museum that questions its own assumptions.
For example the way an archaeologist looks at a prehistoric grave is not just defined by ‘objective’ knowledge but also by his concept of the world he knows. So when he tries to find out whether a prehistoric grave belongs to a man or a woman, he might follow rules like: ‘ah this is a needle, so it was a woman’ and ‘ah this is a weapon, so it was a man’. How can we be sure that this is prehistoric reality and not the archaeologist’s concept of the world, projected on prehistoric times? We can’t, the Stockholm National Historical Museum simply says. This museum does something more courageous than I even saw a museum do: contest its own authority, expertise and knowledge. Isn’t that a great example for the 21st century where certainties have diminished anyway!
It is not just a non-issue that they are talking about, as you can read in a previous blog of my hand, april 2011: https://grethevangeffen.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/gay-caveman-in-czech-republic/ 
The Stockholm National Historic Museum makes this matter personal (see the photograph above). Many people define their identity by the (national) history; be it viking, be it VOC mentality, be it slavery, be it the Ottoman empire. But as the museum says, it matters who defined that history with what concept. This museum questions the possibility to define your identity through history, as it might be a construct rather than a truth or reality. I loved it – I found it very intriguing. If you prefer questions to answers, don’t forget to pass by this museum when you are in Stockholm. Enjoy!

Vikings: did they really exist?

   “The Vikings is a created identity that everybody uses for its own purposes”, says an intruiging exhibition in the Stockholm National Historical Museum / Historiska Museet (http://www.historiska.se ). They have a complete collection of every possible antique Viking asset, but they also contest the very existence of a Viking identity and I have to say, they do that quite convincingly. It really made me smile.
They explain that in 1864 Germany attacked Denmark and Denmark lost Southern Jutland. So the Nordic countries felt threatened. Their reaction was to create the Viking myth so that others would feel frightened to attack them. Ain’t that a marvellous story!
Apparently the creation of the myth was successful so it became a habit. When universal male voting rights were introduced in 1910, the Vikings served as example: ‘all free men had a vote in the Viking time’.  During the second World War, the Germans used Viking dresses and symbols to convince Norvegian men to join them, as if the Vikings were some kind of prehistoric SS-men. Then after the war, everybody was longing for peace so the peaceful side of Vikings as peasants was emphasized. 
When Sweden was discussing EU-membership in the years ’80 and ’90, the Viking identity was presented in favour of EU-membership expressing how actively they were trading in many places in Europe. And isn’t the EU about trade most of all!
And now the most funny part comes. Actually gender and diversity have become an important theme in life. So what happens to the Viking identity? In the presentation of Viking history, the prominent place of women in Viking society is shown. And the Vikings have now become people who were very open for other cultures and ideas.
So the Viking identity can serve many goals. Applause for a Historical Museum that is splendid in its normal exhibition of historical artefacts and in the meantime so creative in  the reflections about the interpretation of what they exhibit. Very worth a visit!