Peter Davis: ‘Reflections on Ecomuseums: theory and practice’

’eco’ – derived from the Greek ’oikos’– a house, living space or a habitat (Davis 2011: 3)

One of the main interests in Peter Davis’s research, is community museology and ecomuseums, which he has been studying since the 1990s. On 7th of November, Davis held a lecture on ecomuseums at the University of Helsinki. This text is written to draw together some of the themes he introduced. (Quotations are from the lecture.)

Davis characterizes ecomuseums as being linked to a place and thus belonging to a particular environment. They are ’community driven projects, which usually involve voluntary work with local people, helping them to develop sustainable ways of action’. Ecomuseum is a malleable concept which respons to unique contexts. The three main pillars of ecomuseums can be described as a sence of place, community involvement, and functions in a unique environment.

A sense of place

There are many variations of ecomuseums, with different emphases, but what they all share, is an idea of a place. By the means of ecomuseum, it’s possible to take a holistic approach to heritage and to the surrounding environment, and to explore the essence of each distictive area. Thus, instead of being a building, museum becomes a place, which boundaries can be defined by music, tradition, dialect or other attributes. When traditional museums can be illustrated as object-centered: emphasizing collection and buildings; ecomuseums focus on heritage: emphasizing territory, population and memory.

Community involvement

Processes of democratisation characterise ecomuseums. They can be jointly managed and owned, or they can be steered otherwise by local communities and encourage people to participate. On the contrary to traditional museums, ecomuseums depend on voluntary effort. Therefore, instead of concentrating to the final result, the process of involvement becomes the focal point. Manners of participation and democratisation give leeway to local identities to empower. Thus, community and its’ memory shift at the center of the attention, whereas the traditional museum functions around professionals and legitimate techniques.

Functions in a unique environment

The idea of the ecomuseum covers spatial as well as temporal aspects. It brings visible the interconnectedness between nature & culture; past & present; technology & individual; which are often treated as exclusive elements. This enables the preservation of both tangible and intangible heritage. The forms of ecomuseums varies with diverse geographical territories. However, a feature defining all ecomuseums is the enhancement of sustainable development: local heritage resources are safeguarded and preserved.

To conclude, all ecomuseums share the idea of place, function with local community and enhance sustainable devolopment in the unique environment. At the present, impacts and societal effects of museums are under vivid discussion in Finland. Participative practices are stressed with the purpose of increasing social and mental wellbeing. Concurrently, we are facing the biggest crisis of humankind in the form of climate change. Perhaps ecomuseums could respond to both of these needs? Wonder if we will see more variations of them in Finland at the near-future.

Overall, the lecture was thought provoking. Warm thanks to Peter Davis for visiting us!


Further reading

Borrelli, Nunzia. ”How Culture Shapes Nature: Reflections On Ecomuseum Practices.(Report).” Nature and Culture 7, no. 1 (2012): 31.

Chang, Cheng. ”A Narrative Review of Ecomuseum Literature: Suggesting a Thematic Classification and Identifying Sustainability As a Core Element.” International Journal Of The Inclusive Museum 7, no. 2 (2015): 15-29.

Davis, Peter. Ecomuseums: A Sense of Place. 2nd ed. London: Continuum, 2011.

Davis, Peter & … In Knell, Simon J., Suzanne MacLeod, and Sheila Watson. Museum Revolutions: How Museums Change and Are Changed. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2007.

Dogan, Mustafa. ”Ecomuseum, Community Museology, Local Distinctiveness, Hüsamettindere Village, Bogatepe Village, Turkey.” Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development 5, no. 1 (2015): 43-60.

Gunter, Christopher. ”Ecomuseums: Challenging Temporality Through Community Reappropriation.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 47, no. 4 (2017): 259-273.