How do we construct history? And how can history be used to construct stories? The permanent exhibition of the old Estonian National Museum in Tartu used to present a rather romantic view of life of Estonians in preindustrial times. The focus was clearly placed on ethic descent over citizenship. In later years, only temporary exhibitions tried to include other times and voices as well.
Recently, a new cultural complex was created and the chance to completely remodel the exhibition was finally there. Terje Anepaio and Kristel Rattus explained how the new permanent exhibition "Encounters" came into being, aiming to tell the story about all people who have and live on Estonian territory. So far, the Russian-speaking minority has remained mainly unstudied. The new presentation focuses on everyday life of both groups, presented site by site to show parallels and bring them into dialogue. Challenges included questions of what is suitable to present, a scarcity of objects in general and different attitudes towards the museum as institution. However, slowly fruitful conversations started, which eventually built the bridge.
What do we learn? That it takes time to build trust, and that we need to be aware of different ideas of museums and exhibitions and the modes of representation.
From Estonia we moved to Poland, where the museum boom is still ongoing, latest example being the recently founded Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk. Maria Kobielska of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow provided us with a profound comparative analysis of the Warsaw Rising Museum of 2004 and the new museum in Gdansk, touching on questions on the politics of memory and how exhibitions in particular are used to shape the national narrative of 20th century history. The recent political pressure to reshape the museum in Gdansk to comply to a more nationalist view stirred international attention, and the future of the museum as it is now remains highly unsure.
In the following discussion, the former president of ICOM International Hans-Martin Hinz pointed out that this is where ICOM as a global player can and should act as mediator between politics, governance and museums - a process that already started in Poland.
The final presentation of the session by Anja Petersen of Kulturmagasinet took a closer look at the master narratives of cities, and our focus shifted once more to our host town Helsingborg. As almost everywhere, the stories that shape identity are made of 'white men of class and certain attitudes'. Nils Krok, author of the drama "Ingeborg Holm" in 1906, would have met the requirements - if he had not clearly addressed pressing social issues in his play where the main character is also a women. Anja reminded us to review the master narratives we are tempted to take for granted and which lead to the fact that even in 2017 women are still underrepresented in most master narratives: "To choose is a political standpoint", and what we show and what we not show is equally important.