Memory in Public: Change and Continuity in Contemporary Polish Historical and Cultural Museums

Erica Fontana


The past few years in Poland and, indeed, globally, have seen a shift from the predominance of traditional museums to the rise of multi-mediated, multi-sensory, and interactive “new” museums. However, in the midst of technological shifts in
museum forms as well as broader social, cultural, and political changes, are the images of Poland and Polish culture and national identity, as presented in museums, also changing? If so, how, and what resources are being drawn on to construct new identities and/or reproduce old ones?
I am currently engaged in a study of museums—conceptualized broadly to include traditional historical and cultural museums, cultural and historical centers, and online archives and virtual “memory sites—in contemporary Poland. My study focuses on one particular type of museum “publics”—those most involved with and interested in the museum process, the workers and volunteers. I am interested in which individuals comprise this form of the museum public in the case of historical and cultural museums in Poland, their motivations for becoming involved, and their role within museum practices more broadly. I hypothesize, first, that new
museums understood as a sort of public “ritual” represent in part a means of addressing uncertainty over national identity; and secondly, that local/regional and transnational resources, in addition to national ones are increasingly being drawn
on in both museum form and content in the process of constructing new public images of Poland, in part in dialogue with broader and more diff use audiences, but also that these new images coexist, at times uneasily, with familiar discourses of the nation.

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