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Gestaltning av det förflutna : berättelser i museiutställningar

Portraying the past : narrative in museum exhibitions


Summary, in Swedish

Museums, as we know them, originate from the enlightened modernity with its emphasis on rationality and positivism. Today, however, modernity is highly contested, and the role of the museum has shifted. We argue that historical museum exhibitions operate in the boundary between didactics and experiences, which in turn affects the way exhibitions communicate with its visitors. The aim of this thesis is to problematize how historical narratives and the past are depicted in local and regional historical exhibitions in Scania, Sweden. The study has been conducted by A) examining how producers reason when creating exhibitions, both regarding the understanding of the past and the ways of creating meaningful experiences, and B) examining existing historical exhibitions created in the last decade with focus on the design and the communication aspects of the exhibitions.

The theoretical foundation of our thesis is the postmodern theory. We focus on the part of the theory that emphasises on the deconstruction of metanarratives and on the notion that knowledge and history are subjectively constructed. To understand how narratives are created in historical exhibitions and how they can retroact on museum visitors we use two different explanatory models: literary theorist Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s distinction between meaning effects and presence effects, and a model to expose the layering of time in exhibitions.

Our results indicate that postmodernism is visible in the practice of exhibitions; as well in the reasoning when planning exhibitions as in the communication to the visitors in existing exhibitions. A consequence of this, we argue, is that text material and other semiotic tools, along with different interpretations and a multitude of perspectives on phenomena, risk constituting the foundations of museum exhibitions instead of being a tool to understand the exhibition. Drawn to extremes this may result in visitors not acquiring the core of the narrated history. However, there seems to be a shift in focus regarding the production of exhibitions, from interpretations and perspectives to the actual objects in the exhibitions. This shift in focus does not exclude interpretations. The shift indicates a reaction against the postmodern attitude towards history, and a progression to a post-postmodernism where presence effects are favoured. A way to achieve these effects are by applying multimedia solutions, where visitors can choose from a range of different media by which they can interact with exhibitions. To make the past relevant to visitors, exhibition producers try to connect the past to present phenomena as well as connect the stories told to an emotive level.

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (two years)


  • Cultural Sciences


  • meaning
  • presence
  • time
  • exhibition medium
  • permanent exhibition
  • historical exhibition
  • narrative
  • mening
  • närvaro
  • tid
  • utställningsmedium
  • basutställning
  • historisk utställning
  • berättande
  • postmodernism


  • Pernilla Rasmussen