National Musea

In 1753, British philanthropists founded the British Museum, the world's first national museum, open for a general public (in contrast to royal collections, which were numerous, but inaccessible for the large majority of the population. In France, the Louvre, hitherto royal palace, in 1793 was turned into the Musee de la Republique. Swedish King Gustavus III. in his testament turned the royal collection into the Royal Museum, open to the general public (1792). The Danish royal collection was opened to the general punlic in 1816.
The British Museum was an institution of the British bourgeoisie, which had financed it; in case of France, Sweden and Denmark, existing royal collections were made accessible to the general public, which, at that time, was almost synomymous with the bourgeoisie, as peasants and workers were not very likely to admire Renaissance paintings. The foundation of musea respectively opening of musea to the general public thus indicates the transition from a court culture dominated by the nobility to a society of burghers.

The cases aforelisted were nation-states; however, in the early 19th century, there were numerous nations lacking national unity and/or a government of their own. The establishment of a National Museum (Hungary 1802, Bohemia 1816, the Germanic National Museum in Nürnberg 1852-1853) therefore was more than merely a philanthropic act with the intention to preserve historical treasures, art treasures etc.; it was the establishment of a national institution, therefore an indirect defiance of the existing political situation, an act of defiance which did not provide the authorities with an excuse to suppress them. In the Austrian Empire, the authorities respected the law and tolerated the musea; in the Russian Empire, similar institutions were founded (Poland : Warsaw 1862, Finland 1893), but the label 'national museum' first was avoided, and not used until 1916.

Historians began to edit compendia of documents of their respective national history. In Germany, Freiherr vom Stein founded the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1819, J.G. Liljegren the Diplomatarium Suecanum (Compendium of Swedish Documents) in 1829 etc. The study of German, Polish, Italian history strengthened, among scholars and readers interested in history, national identity at a time when the respective nation lacked political unity. The study of Norwegian, Finnish, Czech, Croat, Irish etc. etc. history, stressed national identity when the respective nation was governed by foreigners.

History of the British Museum, from The British Museum
History of the National Museum of Ireland
Function and History, from National Museum, Prague; Article National Museum (Prague), from Wikipedia
History of the National Museum, Warsaw; Article National Museum of Poland, from Wikipedia
History of the National Museum of Finland
Once a Royal Palace, from National Museum, Denmark; Article National Museum of Denmark, from Wikipedia
History of the Swedish National Museum, in Swedish
Article Swiss National Museum, from Wikipedia
History of Monumenta Germaniae Historica, in German
History of Diplomatarium Suecanum, in Swedish

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 28th 2003, last revised on April 14th 2007

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