The Role of Encyclopedic Museums in Complex Political Times (in Europe)

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Europe and the world: a symphony of cultures

Taking place from 16th – 29th April 2018, ‘Europe and the world: a symphony of cultures’ will explore Europe’s interactions with the world and will strive to allow a dialogue between works of classical and contemporary music and the British Museum’s extraordinary objects from all over the world. In doing so the festival will contribute to a better understanding of both the role of the encyclopaedic museum and the evolving relationship between Europe and the World.

Organised by the British Museum and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and supported by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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Press Release



Three-Day Symposium, 13th – 15th September 2017

Symposium: The Role of Encyclopedic Museums in Complex Political Times (in Europe)




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Symposium: The Role of Encyclopedic Museums in Complex Political Times (in Europe)

Three-Day Symposium, 13th – 15th September 2017, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Germany

To accompany the Jerusalem Arts Festival at the Israel Museum and the London Arts Festival at the British Museum, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden are hosting a three-day international symposium to explore the roles for and the challenges facing encyclopedic museums in politically complex times (in Europe). 




In Europe nationalism and right-wing populism increasingly endanger artistic freedom of thought, and cultural and artistic censorship has risen dramatically worldwide in the past two years. Museums and cultural institutions are thus increasingly forced to examine their role in society. Museums with multi- and transdisciplinary collections are particularly challenged to reflect critically on their position. What contribution can and must encyclopedic museums offer in light of the current societal polarization? What challenges do they face, and what unexpected potential might they discover? How can museums effectively present complex topics and relationships to a broad audience? 

[Translate to English:] Text

The art-historical, cultural, ethnological, archaeological and design holdings of encyclopedic museums grant these collections a complex historical depth, and can be seen as a vocabulary of global society. Due to the targeted attacks on historic monuments, schools, and libraries in various war-torn regions of the world and the concomitant destruction of cultural heritage, encyclopedic museums have a particularly crucial responsibility to maintain their role as open archives of world cultures. Their compendium-like holdings allow such institutions to convincingly address the complex intellectual relationships connecting Europe and the world and to present these to a broad and international audience. These museums are obligated to contribute to the promotion of cultural exchange and to engage in self-criticism. For many years encyclopedic museums and the Kunstkammer or ‘cabinets of curiosity’ out of which they often evolved aimed to present a view of the world on a global scale, but also became models for the appropriation of objects on a global scale. In the 18th century, collections were more strictly divided into specialized public museums, in tandem with the rising importance of encyclopedic modes of thought during the Age of Enlightenment and concomitant attempts to create a structure and architecture of knowledge. Today the great encyclopedic museums are again faced with the task of critically examining the processes by which knowledge related to their collections was and is generated, the taxonomies under which the collections are organized, the contexts from which the objects in the collection originate and the conditions under which they entered the collection, the manner in which stories have grown up around the objects, and what view of the world displays of the objects present. Museum institutions create not only knowledge and culture, but also identities. Awareness of this role, and the dissemination of this awareness, become even more critical in periods of increasing nationalism and waning tolerance towards other cultures.

During the symposium, topics such as a ‘post-truth age’, ‘autonomy and freedom of thought’, ‘whose heritage?’ and ‘the museum as shelter’ will provide the subject for intense and controversial debate.

[Translate to English:] Kooperationspartner

with the support of                            To accompany

          Logo Auswärtiges Amt          Logo Jerusalem Arts Festival     Logo British Museum



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