Do museums promote social cohesion? Social cohesion is people living together as one society. People feel part of this society. They are part of a social community.
This project aims to explore the relationship between museums and our society. Which opinions from the community are given preference here? Which opinions from the community are deemed less important? Which opinions from the community are left out of the equation?
Museums influence society. And museums are influenced by society. Museums are popular places. There are about 6700 museums in Germany. Every year, 114 million people in Germany go to museums.
What place does the museum have in our society? What role does it play? Right now, issues such as restitution or digitization are being discussed. Restitution is the restoration of art objects that were previously stolen. Digitization: As people are using computers and robots more and more, museums too are becoming more digital. This means you can often experience museums on the computer now. For example, there are digital guided tours. This enables you to join the tour from home on your computer. The idea is for people to engage even more actively in the museum experience. Digitization is changing museums. In this context, the museum has an important role to play for society and for policymakers.
Do museums promote the coexistence of people? This project aims to explore the relationship between museums and our society. Which people are given preference here? Which people are deemed less important? Which people are left out of the equation?
The project “Museums and Society - Mapping the Social” aims to answer these questions. The project is supported by the Berlin University Alliance. The Berlin University Alliance is an association of three universities and one hospital.
Freie Universität Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin,
Technische Universität Berlin
Charité – Medizinische Universität Berlin
In the project we reflect on social cohesion and social exclusion. These issues are very important for our society today. Museums have an important role to play in this discussion.
Our team consists of researchers from:
Humboldt University of Berlin
Technische Universität Berlin
Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Institute for Museum Research
We have created four case studies for the project. Each study looks at one case from different perspectives.
The four case studies are:
These themes are explained in more detail under the heading “Case studies”. The themes all deal with the relationship between museums and society.
Our project is not linked to any particular disciplines. It is intended to contribute to international cooperation and networking. We would be very happy to hear from you!
Museums change over time. The function and role museums play in society have changed. Our project seeks to examine the role and function of the museum today. How is the role of the museum changing? How is the function of the museum changing?
Museums describe society. They show us what a society looks like. And museums uphold the rules and structures of our society. Museums actively shape our society. But how exactly do museums do this? This is what this project is investigating. By the same token, however, society is always changing museums too. Society has influenced museums in many respects. Namely, how museums collect objects for their exhibitions, how they work, and what objects they exhibit.
Museums are linked to the Modern Era. The Modern Era is an epoch. Many radical changes have occurred in the Modern Era. Many new technical and scientific innovations have been created in the Modern Era. The First World War indeed took place in this epoch. People turned away from traditions. People now wanted to be individual and independent. This also had an impact on art and museums. That is why museums are linked to concepts like state and nation. And museums are also influenced by these.
Today, there is a lot of discussion about returning stolen art objects. And there is discussion about patronage. Patronage is when a person gives money to a museum or an exhibition. The person receives nothing in return. The person is then called a patron.
Working in museums and access to museums are also discussed. These issues are likewise important for society and for policymakers. The museum is a social cohesion. That is why we are looking at how social cohesion works in museums. Our project seeks to find out what social cohesion means. How do museums influence our society? And how does our society influence museums?
We would like to have a critical dialog between the research and the public.
Science communication is the way in which the results of research are communicated to the public. However, there is often no critical discussion about the nature of the research. There is often inequality when it comes to research. Some people are given preference in research at university. And other people are excluded.
What is acknowledged in research? Various things:
What is acknowledged about these things? What is considered unimportant? There is a gradation here. This means that the information does not reach some people at all. Many people are excluded and discriminated against. This creates barriers for people. They cannot get involved in the results of the research. And they cannot join in the discussion either.
We would be happy for you to join in the discussion. And for you to challenge us. Please take a look at our website.
Our staff member for research communication and participation is Pegah Byroum-Wand. She will be happy to answer any questions you have.
We are exploring the relationship between museums and society. In four case studies we will combine perspectives from the past with research studies.
Right now, there is a lot of debate about the role of the museum in our society. Our project aims to contribute to this discussion. In Berlin, our intention is to build the foundations for a new university and museum research center for this purpose. Now to the four case studies.
Digital image worlds
This study is about digital image worlds. Digital image worlds are created around museums. Digital images are, for example, images on the computer or on the mobile phone.
The researchers will concentrate on social aspects. They will be looking at collection data, digital networks and interfaces of mediation and data exchange. Different systems are able to exchange data with each other via interfaces. The researchers are looking at databases and social media projects.
Technologies such as networks make a contribution towards social cohesion. This social aspect has to be linked to the future of the museum as an institution. Data protection also plays an important role here. Perhaps digitization will make new approaches possible. For example, there are now virtual tours of museums. Now, people can often experience the museum digitally too. But is that really the case? We also plan to investigate this in our project.
Commercial platforms are also important to this discussion. Something is commercial if you earn money from it. Mobile phones and social media are digital networks. That's why they are an important factor for society. This is where society comes together and an exchange takes place. With platforms like Facebook or Instagram too, however, data protection comes up as a negative topic time and time again. People don't know what happens to their data on Facebook or Instagram. This study looks at how museums deal with data protection.
Museums as laboratories
In this study, museums are places for experimentation. For the study, researchers will be examining how the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN) digitizes its exhibition. And they are examining how the MfN collects the objects for its exhibitions.
The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin wants to make its collection of objects digitally accessible. This will make it easier for researchers to compare the biodiversity of the past with the biodiversity of today. This is because all objects will then be visible on the computer. These comparisons can also help with the question of climate change.
It is assumed that more and more species are becoming extinct. As a result, the world's biodiversity is decreasing. The decline of biodiversity must be slowed down. For this to happen, digitization in the museum must be accelerated. Then, perhaps, climate change can be slowed down. Speed is therefore an important issue for this study. We need to move faster in order to slow climate change down. When museums display their collections digitally, you can find out more about biodiversity. The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin has a device for this. The device is called the “Entomology Conveyor”. The device can digitize many objects automatically. Visitors can watch live as museum staff digitize individual objects.
For the study, the researchers are examining public objects in the “Entomology Conveyor” and non-public objects. In the study, digitization as part of the exhibition can be compared with normal digitization work. The “Entomology Conveyor” makes digitization faster. What does that mean exactly? And who benefits from it? Through digitization, people can prevent crises. The study is also about the future. What will the future look like? What might a bad future have in store?
This study looks at the environment in the museum. And it looks at the museum as an environment. How does the museum shape its immediate environment? And how does it shape the environment of the whole world? How is the museum itself shaped by its immediate environment? How is the museum shaped by the world environment?
Museums collect many objects for an exhibition. At the same time, museums also collect a great deal of knowledge. What can we learn from this about social cohesion? What information do museums gather through their objects? What images of nature are conveyed through museums?
The museum is itself also an environment. How does the museum behave as part of society? Many different people work in a museum. This creates many different relationships. How does a community develop within a museum? The study will be examining the relationships between people, but also the relationships between the people and the objects.
This study focuses on Buddhism. Various objects show how Buddhism came from India to Asia. The Museum of Asian Art in Berlin is exhibiting these objects. Visitors can explore the culture. Many different visitors come to the museum. Everyone has a different story. This leads to many different discussions. What does it mean to belong to a culture? What does culture mean for one's identity? Visitors can help shape new narratives and meanings.
Aims and questions for this study
Objective: To record the emotional journey of visitors.
Method: A questionnaire will be created. The visitors can fill in the questionnaire after the visit. What were the visitors' expectations? How did the exhibition affect the visitors? The questions will be asked without guidance. Visitors are then free to say what the objects mean to them.
The results of the questionnaire will then be analyzed. How important are your own feelings during the exhibition?
The next step is to analyze the social significance of the feelings.
The visitors will be asked to write down ideas. The idea is for them to make connections and assign meanings.
What does the museum want to convey to its visitors? What feelings does the museum want to trigger in them?
There are many different kinds of communities. People can come together because of a religion. People can also come together because of a language. Do museums promote mutual understanding between these different communities?
The project team works with a critical advisory board. An advisory board is a group of people who offer advice.
We work in universities and museums. These are places where knowledge is created and transmitted. This often gives rise to unfair power relations, which in turn leads to inequality and discrimination. Our project aims to explore the role of the museum in society. Racism or colonialism play a role in this context.
That is why we have been working with a critical advisory board since the beginning of 2022. The advisory board consists of activists and other people. These people all have a lot of experience with discrimination and inequality.
Our aim here is to avoid inequality in the project. To do this, we discuss various questions. Who has resources and power? How can we avoid discrimination? Who speaks and who is heard? How can we have conversations and strengthen relationships?
Our colleague Pegah Byroum-Wand plans these sessions beforehand with the advisory board. She conducts the meetings and writes them up afterwards. Nastaran Tajeri-Foumani moderates the sessions.