Modern Museums


After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, political structures shifted away from the aristocratic courts. Additionally, widespread destruction prompted people to think more urgently about the preservation of objects and images, and their relationship to history. Collections that had once belonged to the nobility, monasteries, or other institutions were increasingly dispersed and opened to the public. It was in this context that institutions now known as museums were born. The opening pages of the 1860 guide to the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg recount the history of that museum, describing how it evolved from a princely collection (held by the Wittelsbachs) to a territorial collection with “national” aspirations. While the museum was initially envisioned as a territorial institution, it ultimately became a “German” one instead. Illustrations from the 1853 museum guide show the visiting public as members of the well-heeled bourgeoise, a clear move away from the aristocratic audiences of the Early Modern period. Museums were now places in which “national” subjects were being formed. Alongside other new public sphere offerings, such as newspapers and theaters, museums were an important means of educating and enculturating the broader public in being German. The extension of some of these ways of thinking about the past and its relationship to locality can be seen in the establishment of local interest clubs (Vereine), such as the Society for Hessian History in the 1830s. Germanness became more pronounced in the curation of collections and as a subject of study.


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