Project Description

Transforming Author Museums (TRAUM)

The main aim of the project is to examine current practices of author museums from contemporary and historical perspectives, with the aim of developing new interpretations of author museums as spaces of knowledge transfer and cultural production. The project aims to investigate how and why (certain) writers and literature have been turned into cultural heritage, helped by the display of auratic places such as their homes in combination with the aestheticization of personal ‘relics’ within specific cultural-political contexts. Combining humanities, social sciences and artistic perspectives, it will critically reflect on existing and historical exhibition strategies and consider alternative and innovative ways of displaying literature, focusing on the potentials of author museums and other literary museums and centres as sites of cultural production and literary creativity. On a meta-level the project will contribute to a better understanding of how to communicate the relevance of humanities to the public.

The project applies new perspectives with regard to interdisciplinarity and includes humanities and social science research that expands traditional objects of study; it provides empirical and theoretical insights for the highly abstract and politically charged discussion on the applicability of humanities studies; it operates from an understanding that today’s knowledge has developed over time and is the result of historical transnational processes; it will advance understanding of the relationship between theory and practice by involving museum curators, writers and scholars, potentially suggesting innovative future practices.

Background and status of knowledge.

The project aims to examine critically the role of author museums in the negotiation of local/regional/national/transnational identities, taking into account cultural memory, cultural politics and tourism. It aims to contribute to the ongoing demythification of author museums – often perceived as outdated spaces of hero-worship, canonization and commemoration – asking how they can involve wider fields of literature. Transformations in tourism culture, exhibition practices and attitudes to literature pose major challenges to author museums as they are traditionally understood. The material culture found in author museums is usually a result of canonization and fan culture, and often leads to fetishization and national appropriation of the writer’s life and body. Yet author museums are not only national or local places of commemoration, but also have to deal with more global interests and a growing literary tourism industry. Authors are to a lesser extent seen as national heroes and indeed express resistance to standardized narratives, in line with a shift in emphasis from collective to individual identities. Author museums thus contain the potential not only to function as sacred or pedagogical spaces, but also as spaces of creativity. If they are to have a role in a democratic society, they must not only confirm past canons, but also include contemporary and marginalized voices and publics. With changing models of museum practice in general, author museums must redefine the relationship between texts, objects, images and sounds, between interior, exterior and virtual spaces in ways which acknowledge the textual/verbal and imagined specificities of literature. Developments in literary theory and in literature itself have changed the way we view the relationships between authors, texts and contexts.

Research on literary museums has predominantly focused on German (Schaff and Kroucheva 2013; McIsaac 2007) and British examples (Watson 2006; 2009; but see also Hendrix 2008), with the former primarily seen in a contemporary perspective opening up to many forms of literary exhibition and the latter a historical one with an emphasis on authors’ homes and literary tourism. There exists literature on visitor surveys in museums (for an overview see Kirchberg 2010), however, little has been done to relate this to literary and historical perspectives on author museums. In Norway, research has focused on individual authors (Selberg 2010; Reksten 2008; Gjestrum 2002) and their roles in nation-building processes (Aarnes 1991). There is a lack of research on Norwegian author museums within regional, national as well as international contexts.

Like all museums, author museums are representative as well as formative mediums of society (Macdonald 1996) and thus central agents in producing cultural identity. Authors’ houses have been popular sites for travellers since the 18th century and national icons since the 19th century (Watson 2006). They have communicated internal and external images of national cultures and thus contribute to creating and confirming regional and national auto- and heterostereotypes. Many author museums or houses have been established with the help of enthusiasts with clear cultural and political agendas (Hendrix 2008), and an understanding of these processes is necessary in order to be able to contextualize the museal representation of the author as a regional or national icon. Authors may also be international icons as their work often has transnational appeal. Author museums hence constitute an important component in the global cultural tourism industry; they are creative products within cultural tourism.

Cultural tourism has been called a sub-set of experiential tourism (Stebbins 1997), composed of both the search for and participation in aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, or psychological experiences. Art-related museum experience has been linked to construction of a self-identity and belonging (Kelly 1985). Lately, researchers have stressed the renewed focus on creativity as a means to escape ‘mass culture tourism’, highlighting a growing integration of tourism and creative industries (Richards 2011). The ‘creative’ is said to orbit around the 4p’s of creative person, process, product, and ‘press’/environment (Rhodes 1961). Richards (2011) argues that modern tourism incorporates all four of these approaches and classifies travel related to famous artists as use of creative products. Author museums are thus important sources for understanding creativity in contemporary society.

If they are to be taken seriously in the context of literary theory, author museums cannot remain caught in the historical-biographical model, but must also acknowledge literary texts, their readers and surrounding contexts. Hendrix (2009) suggests that writers’ houses, with their focus on biography, have with the advent of mass tourism been marginalized in favour of an interest in fictional spaces embedded in realities. Since their very conception, author museums have had to deal with the connected forces of desire and frustration, the ‘admiration’ for the author and ‘dissatisfaction’ (Hendrix 2009) with the experience of reading or with the reality of the landscape, the absences of the literary text and the living body of the author. Like other types of cultural history museums, author museums play upon ideas of authenticity, fetishization of objects, construction and disclosure of myths, different forms of narration and of course the power of visual versus textual material (Hendrix 2008). Author museums are thus much more than just representations of a writer’s life and work; indeed, they are performative acts in the history of a writer’s reception caught in a constant process of remedialization (Watson 2009). They are spaces of interpretation, producing not only knowledge about the writer, but also contributing to changing popular conceptions of literature and adapting this knowledge in dialogue with the visitor.

Approaches, hypotheses and choice of method

The project aims to map connections between biographies, historical contexts, writing spaces, fictional/figurative spaces, objects, and spaces inside and outside museums. It aims to combine critical analyses of exhibition practices, historical/genealogical investigations and visitor surveys. Since the 1980s and the rise of the ‘new museology’ (Vergo 2006), the authority of museums as objective producers of knowledge has been called into question. Their active role in constructing memory and cultural identity has increasingly been foregrounded (Hooper-Greenhill 1992). Their presence on city maps or in tourist brochures announces their embeddedness within specific cultural narratives. Author museums are temporary points of fixation in the changing cultural landscape, and analysing them can advance insight into the way societies communicate about literature and the relevance they assign to it (Pieper 2010). Looking at author museums from local, regional, national and transnational perspectives will further understanding of variations in the production of literary memory cultures, but also the universal appeal of literature. A focus on Norwegian author sites will also contribute to the way Norway has been perceived (and constructed) as a literary place, the relevance of literature as marker of national and regional identities, and how authors have been used as shifting nodal points in political discourses.

As lieux de mémoire, author museums can be analysed within the wider field of museums, cultural memory studies and politics (Stugu 2008, Misztal 2003, Halbwachs & Coser 1992). Within a consumer society and since the onset of mass tourism in the late 19th century, museums have increasingly functioned as experiences and spectacles, and the project will be inspired by work on celebrity cultures and media events which recently has become a centre of attention within cultural studies (Schimanski and Spring 2015). In democratic societies which value participation and representation, questions about selection, canonization and the role of readers/visitors can add to our knowledge of the role of literature as a producer of local, regional, national or transnational identities and of museums as places of learning, interactivity and creativity. Most author museums or houses in Europe are dedicated to male white writers, and the project will thus enhance the understanding of the interplay between cultural identity formation, canonization and gender. It will study how or whether ideological motivations behind museums (for example connected to feminism or to language politics) have influenced presentations of authors. The project will inquire in the relations between the representation of the author, Nynorsk (and Bokmål) ideologies and regional identity building in Norway, and to what extent and why these have changed during the past decades. We will also involve an author or poet in an ArtSci cooperation in the project in order to open up to alternative ways of thinking participation and creativity in author museums.

A survey of national and international museum visitors combining qualitative and quantitative approaches will help to map the motivations behind their visits and enhance understanding of the relevance and perception of literature and their authors across cultures. Related questions to ask concern how the author is contextualized, geographically, spatially and temporally. As physical spaces, author museums are part of the material make-up of their urban or rural surroundings. Sometimes, the messages they convey are explicitly extended into that surroundings, e.g. when phrases from Ibsen’s texts are cut into Oslo pavements. This approach to exhibiting literature outside the largely normative space of the writer’s apartment reflects the ongoing democratization of exhibition design: visitors are asked to create dialogues with the exhibits themselves, rather than being considered passive recipients of the things put on display (Karp 1992). While there have been efforts to apply this approach also in author museums (e.g. Strindberg, Kafka, Pessoa, Knut Hamsun Centre), many still apply an exhibition aesthetic deriving from early 20th century practices (Watson 2006). The question of how to put authors’ lived-in spaces on display without reducing them to a specific moment in history is still highly relevant.

A related question concerns the representation of the authors: Are they presented as universal artists beyond time and place, or as individuals rising from and belonging to a specific community and environment? Visualizing writers’ work and mediating their creative activity is per definition difficult since we are concerned with mental processes. Most author museums therefore resort to showing and dramatizing fragmented sections from their lives and thus only challenge popular myths to a lesser extent. Traditionally, they mediate a biographically-based image of the author as a creative genius and a suffering and exceptional person. However, efforts to deconstruct the myth of the genius, to reflect on the linearity of biography anew, and to shift the focus to texts and imagined/real landscapes, often by applying poststructuralist approaches, may have contributed to the recent rise of general literature museums and literary parks. The project will investigate new innovative ways of conceptualizing the relations between authors, their texts and the museum space. The different perspectives of researcher, curator, writer and visitor will help to reveal conflictual interpretations and make possible more holistic understandings.

In order to help envisage new literary museum practices, research on author museums must acknowledge and map the heterogeneity of historical and existing museum frameworks beyond dominant forms such as the writer’s house; overlaps with many other practices of exhibiting literature; analogies and differences to other forms of artist and individual-orientated museums; variations in different kinds of author involved; and regional variation beyond Italy, France, Germany, Britain and the USA (the focus of most previous studies). The project must also open for connections between museums and temporary exhibitions (often at libraries and theatre museums), reconstructed rooms or themed spaces within museums (such as the Sandel room at Perspektivet museum in Tromsø), theme parks (such as Muminvärlden), general literature museums (such as the new Literature Museum in Vienna) and the genres of literature tourism on a greater scale (literature atlases, guidebooks, guided tours, augmented reality apps, etc.). Increasingly, literary tourism studies have taken on an interdisciplinary approach, not without its difficulties (Watson 2009), and in this project we attempt to bring together historians, cultural historians, museologists, literary scholars, tourism researchers, social scientists, museum curators and authors with each their approaches to research. We suggest that non-hierarchical forms of analysis – deconstruction, cultural analysis with a focus on the museum’s multimediality and ‘grammar of display’ (Bal 1996), critical discourse analysis, actor-network analysis, and analyses focusing on remedialization across cultural fields – will bridge gaps between their different approaches.

We will use Rhodes’ 4p approach to creativity and Jakobson’s communication model (1960) to help structure the project. The literary dominant in author museums has been the ‘sender’ (author) function in the communication model, but analysis of museums can also open up to exhibition practices focusing on the other five functions, i.e. on ‘receiver’ (reader/visitor practices), ‘message’ (literary texts/museum narratives), ‘context’ (historical/contemporary societies), ‘channel’ (museal media/print culture), and ‘code’ (museology/literary theory). While such models are heuristically useful, priority will be given to problematizing the boundaries between each function and showing how they interact and overlap. A literary formalist approach would be sceptical to the author-orientated tradition of writers’ houses, observing that they convey biography or history rather than literature, often conflating authors’ ‘homes and haunts’ with their imaginative production (Hendrix 2009). However, it is clear that theory on biography and life-writing (Eakin 2004) will inform the way in which museums produce their narratives and symbols. Exhibition analysis, spatial analysis on chronotopes and narrative analysis focuses on another kind of ‘text’, the exhibition itself, whereas the project will draw on reception aesthetics, cultural analysis (Bal 1996), literary sociology and didactics (Rødnes 2014) and visitor motivation analysis in tourism studies (Stylianou-Lambert 2009), in order to focus on the performativity of exhibitions and on both visitors and readers.

Within these frameworks we intend to analyse author museums not as representations of literature but as places in which literature is framed and read in a way medially and qualitatively different from in books (Watson 2009), or as part of a culture and history of discourse and media. This means taking into account processes of remedialization and adaptation. The project will further take into account various theoretical ‘turns’, primarily the ‘cultural’ and the ‘performative’ or ‘processual’ turns, and focus especially on the ‘spatial’ turn. Author museums are fascinating case studies as their main theme, text, content and context, has to undergo spatial turns in the process of dissemination. Here approaches from literary geography, literary cartography, spatiality and literature, travel writing studies, space and place theory and theories of the body will inform our work. The project aims to contribute to the history of travel and tourism, our understanding of literature and place, literary didactics and the dissemination of literature.

The project plan

Work Packages

Research tasks within the project are linked to four parallell work packages examining questions of authorial image (WP1), museum spaces (WP2), political contexts (WP3), and visitors (WP4), following a structure suggested in the models for creativity and communication mentioned earlier. Core group and external participants will connect with activities in all WPs beyond the roles given here. Fellows may bring new case studies and methods into the project.

WP1: Life and writing in author museums

Objectives: To study and compare how authors’ lives are presented in different kinds of museums, with focus on 1. what parts of writers’ biographies are highlighted and how, 2. what connections are made between life and work, 3. how the author’s role and life-arc is envisioned, 4. how authors are situated in and identified with historical and cultural contexts, 5. how author museums compare with other genres of biography, 6. how museums cater to visitors’ horizon of expectations. Data: A selection of Norwegian authors’ homes (e.g. Bjørnson, Undset, Duun, Ibsen in Grimstad and Oslo) and author centres without original objects/spaces (e.g. Dass), with a comparative perspective (eg. Kafka in Prague, Strindberg, Keats in London, the Brontës in Hayworth, Woolf). Methods and theory: biography and life-writing theory, reception theory, cultural sociology and aesthetics.

WP2: Transforming spaces of remedialization in author museums

Objectives: To study and compare how different kinds of museum space have been and are being used to remedialize authors and literature, with a focus on 1. how exhibition practices relate to historical developments in society, tourism, museums and literature, with shifting emphasises on authors, texts or readers, on heroism, democracy or identity, and on commemoration, fetishization, spectacle, experience, creativity or learning, 2. how authors’ houses compare to author centres, author parks, themed spaces and general literature museums in opening up ways of exhibiting literature, 3. how museums give access to literature, presenting life and writing in material, visual, textual, auditive and interactive forms, 4. how internal and external, imaginative and real, literary and biographical, architectural and medial spaces are utilized in literary exhibitions, 5. how museum exhibitions interact with other spatial genres of showing literature. Data: A selection of authors homes, author centres, literary museums, parks and exhibition spaces partly overlapping with those in WPs 1 & 3, both Norwegian (Ibsen in Oslo, Garborgs in Asker and in Jæren and Asker, Hamsun in Hamarøy, Kielland, Sandel, Wergeland) and comparative (Strindberg, Kafka, Pessoa, Balzac, Wordsworth, Grillparzer, Jansson, Thomas, Rousseau, Literaturmuseum der Moderne, the new Literaturmuseum in Vienna). Method and theory: historiography, exhibition analysis, cultural analysis, critical discourse analysis, discourse history, chronotopic analysis, actor-network theory along with theories of remedialization, media events, spectacle and celebrity.

WP3: New Norwegian writers: The cultural and didactic relevance of exhibition practices

Objectives: To find out how literature by New Norwegian authors has been made relevant exhibition practices, with focus on 1. the relationship between minority literature, exhibition practices and cultural-political strategies, 2. how commemoration practices and anniversary celebrations of authors contribute to or enhance this discourse, 3. how museums and other literary institutions use both discursive and display strategies to legitimize the cultural relevance of authors’ works, 4. how literary exhibition practices relate to dominating didactic perspective in the teaching of Norwegian, i.e. the focus on the relevance of literary reception. Data: archival material, museum spaces and exhibitions (Aasen, Garborgs in Jæren and Asker, Løland, Hauge, Sande, Vinje, Duun, Sivle), author organisations, material on anniversary celebrations, websites and media activities of museums, organisations and the National Library. Method and theory: uses of history and cultural memory, reception aesthetics, literary didactics.

WP4: Motivational factors in creative products: An investigation of cultural tourism to writer museums

Objectives: To investigate motivational factors behind visits to the author museums, with focus on 1. associated self-identification and intensity of desires, 2. developing and testing a behavioural model that leads people to engage in cultural and knowledge explorations, 3. connections between self-identity formation and choice of destination (local/national/transnational) within cultural tourism, 4. the relevance of author museums as ‘creative products’, 5. delineations between cultural/experiential and leisure/activity tourism, 6. the development of marketing through increased knowledge of unidentified, already existing and more granular segments. Data: visitor surveys (a selection of the Norwegian author museums investigated in the other WPs), interviews. Method and theory: qualitative and quantitative research approaches, motivation analysis, in-depth interviews, online/offline surveys.

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