On the current problems of research and practice

According to “Standards für Museen” (Standards for Museums) of the Deutsche Museumsbund, the main tasks of museums consist in “collecting, preserving, researching, exhibiting/communicating” (DMB/ICOM, Standards für Museen 2006, p. 6). “The predominant task is object-oriented research on the collection stocks” (ibid., p. 18). Research is crucial for the reason that it lays the foundation of all other tasks (cf. WKN, Forschung in Museen (Research in Museums) 2010, p. 11). Due to tight budgets, difficult staffing situations, and a focus on exhibition activities, research has been significantly cut back in most museums. 


As the Wissenschaftliche Kommission Niedersachsen (WKN) has pointed out based on survey results, only around 10% of all museums have more than 5 full-time employees, of which less than half are fully or partially engaged with research tasks (ibid., p. 18). According to the same questionnaire survey (with a return rate of 38.7% of the total of 672 contacted institutions in Lower Saxony), 68% have no employees that can be deployed for research (see ibid. p. 29). The situation at cultural-historical museums is even worse, according to their self-assessment (see ibid. p. 36). Although the employees are optimally educated in professional terms, they have usually not been trained at all in visual presentation. Across all categories, it is usually the one-sided aim to attract high numbers of visitors to temporary exhibitions (see ibid. p. 11). With regard to publications as a research indicator, exhibition catalogs make up 19.68% and thus lie far ahead of collection catalogs that merely make up 4.82% of the published research output according to museums in Lower Saxony in 2010 (see ibid. p. 37). The study of the WKN comes to the conclusion that overall probably only 10% of all museums in Lower Saxony conduct research in the strict sense (see ibid. p. 39), which corresponds with the national average (see Forkel 2007, p. 7; Volk 2009, p. 117). Hence, this situation can also be regarded as transferable to other federal states.


Research on the own collection stocks, which forms the core of the museum’s social mandate, therefore only makes up a relatively low percentage of the operative budget and staffing plan. Despite permanently growing stocks, museums are increasingly less able to gain new research insights by working on the collections and communicating them to a broad public. If the foundation of the museum is research, then this foundation reveals cracks; this is particularly severe, since science and daily life could encounter each other in museums in a succinct and publically effective way (see Rauterberg 2010). Research activities at universities and museums are increasingly drifting apart. Under the title “Faltenzählen versus Bildwissenschaft. Die Forschung an Museen und Universitäten: Konkurrenz oder Partnerschaft” (Counting Folds vs. Visual Studies. Research at Museums and Universities: Competition or Partnership), the Verbund Deutscher Kunsthistoriker dedicated a special section of the XXXIII. Deutsche Kunsthistorikertag 2015 at the University of Mainz to this fact. The development has led to museums rarely taking current cultural-scientific and cultural-historical research results into account or being able to grasp their own exhibitions as research exhibitions. Especially in the field of art, taking over entire exhibitions from other venues is no longer the exception; at the expense of the possibility to appealingly present their own permanent collection, they are in danger of “calling into question the museum as a permanent facility” (Fehr 2006, p. 164).


In response to this situation, PriMus supports doctorates dedicated to themes that examine collection stocks and make them accessible to the public in the form of publications and exhibitions. PriMus thus emphasizes the fact that research in museums always stands “in an interrelationship with the three other tasks of the museum: collecting, preserving, and communicating” (WKN, Forschung in Museen 2010, p. 15). The program simultaneously follows the recommendation of the WKN that the specific research profile of the museum should be collection-oriented and in the ideal case integrated in a network (see ibid.), in this case with the Leuphana University and its partner institutions. The WKN recommends that museums bring external research actors, especially junior researchers in the qualification phase, to their institution (see ibid. p. 19). 


PriMus seeks to establish such a research network. Research is to be promoted also in those museums that are not explicitly specified as research museums by the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft. In return, historical and theoretical research at the university benefits from the genuine competences and the material stocks of the museum. It is given the opportunity to practically implement historical insights and theoretical speculations and efficiently present them to the public. In their “Empfehlungen zur Intensivierung der Forschung in Museen” (Recommendations to Intensify Research in Museums), the WKN calls for strengthening the cooperation between museums and universities for their mutual benefit: “Museums contribute their specific relation to the collection from the range of their tasks as a museum; universities contribute their theoretical and methodical competence” (see ibid. p. 55). On the side of the university, PriMus responds to the WKN’s call to integrate museums and collections as cooperation partners in research projects (see ibid. p. 71).


Research policies and funding have acknowledged the necessity of establishing a stronger dialogue between museum collections and universities: With the initiative “Übersetzungsfunktion der Geisteswissenschaften 2007” (Translation Function of the Humanities 2007), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research attempted to strengthen the networking of both areas in general; with the project “Wissen & Museum: Archiv – Exponat – Evidenz” (Knowledge & Museum: Archive – Exhibit – Evidence) at the Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, in collaboration with the Deutsche Literaturarchiv Marbach (DLA), the conditions of literary-historical exhibitions were placed in the focus; PriMus benefits from the experiences gained through this project in the person of the innovation mentor Prof. Dr. Heike Gfrereis, director of the museums of the DLA. In contrast to “Wissen & Museum,” PriMus is not only interested in the transfer between university and museum, but also in linking this knowledge transfer to an education model.


With “Die Sprache der Objekte – Materielle Kultur im Kontext gesellschaftlicher Entwicklungen” (The Language of Objects – Material Culture in the Context of Social Developments), the BMBF has been promoting object research based on collection stocks in association projects across different locations since 2012. They concentrate on the aura and social horizons of meaning of cultural-, religion-, and technology-historical artifacts in museums, university collections, and departments for the protection of historical monuments. With the focus on material culture, PriMus takes up this impetus, but integrates it in a study program with an increased outreach and educational claim toward a broad public.


With the funding initiative “Research in Museums,” the VolkswagenStiftung has started supporting especially mid- and small-sized venues as research institutions. Postdocs conduct collection-related research in the frame of fellowships on site. PriMus, on the other hand, begins one educational stage earlier and already introduces doctoral candidates to museum-related research.

Zitierte Literatur: 

  • (DMB/ICOM, Standards 2006): Standards für Museen, hrsg. vom Deutschen Museumsbund e. V. gemeinsam mit ICOM Deutschland, 2. korrigierte Aufl. Kassel/Berlin 2006. www.museumsbund.de/fileadmin/geschaefts/dokumente/Leitfaeden_und_anderes/Standards_fuer_Museen_2006.pdf (Stand 13.3.2015)
  • (Fehr 2006): Fehr, Michael: Unzeitgemäße Überlegungen zum Status und zur Zukunft der Museen, in: Norbert Sievers, Bernd Wagner (Hrsg.), Jahrbuch für Kulturpolitik, Bd. 6, Essen 2006, S. 163-169.
  • (Forkel 2007): Forkel, Jens A.: Zwischen Geschichte und Arbeitsmarkt. Eine Studie zum Bildungsverlauf wissenschaftlicher VolontärInnen im Rahmen der Europäischen Hochschulreform, 2007. http://ww2.smb.museum/smb/media/collection/16334/ExpertiseForkel.pdf (Stand: 13.3.2015
  • (Rauterberg 2010): Rauterberg, Hanno: Sammeln, sortieren, enträtseln, in: Die Zeit, No. 27/2010, http://www.zeit.de/2010/27/Museumsforschung (Stand 10.3.2015).
  • (Volk 2009): Volk, Bettina: Das wissenschaftliche Volontariat am Museum. Einstieg in eine wissenschaftliche Karriere? Ergebnisse einer „Verbleibstudie 1998-2008", in: Mitteilungen des deutschen Archäologen-Verbandes e. V., Jg 40, 2009, Heft 2, S. 116-129.
  •  (WKN, Forschung in Museen 2010): Forschung in Museen. Eine Handreichung, hrsg. von der Wissenschaftlichen Kommission Niedersachsen, Hannover 2010. www.museumsbund.at/uploads/standards/WKN_Forschung_in_Museen.pdf (Stand 13.3.2015)