”Changing Helsinki” part II – course opportunity for HY students

By Dorothea Breier

Last spring I was teaching a course in which students of different fields had a chance to do their own, qualitative studies on local activists working on sustainability issues. The idea was to have a follow-up course in which students would create an exhibition based on this material.

Hki state of mind
Hki state of mind

I am happy to inform that this exhibition course – Changing Helsinki Pt. II – Creating a Research-Based Exhibition on Grassroot Activism and Sustainability – will be taking place in spring 2020. Once more, it is open to students of different fields (e.g. Ethnology, Museology, USP, ECGS, Geography,…), and it is not necessary to have participated in the previous course!

If you are interested in developing solutions for popularising research, in gaining hands-on experience in creating an exhibition and possibly other formats, and with all of this hopefully inspire others to become active for a more sustainable Helsinki themselves, check out the course page and mark the course into your calendars 

If you have any questions about the course, don’t hesitate to contact me! (dorothea . breier @ helsinki . fi)

Good Funding News for Museum Studies Doctoral Researchers

Recently, two of our doctoral researchers in Museum Studies here at the University of Helsinki have received positive funding news. Shikoh Sharaiwa has received a Finnish National Agency for Education scholarship, while Mari Viita-aho has received a grant from Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse sr.

Shikoh explains:

I have been awarded one of the Finnish Government Scholarship Pool 2019-2020 by the Finnish National Agency for Education, whichprovides me with funding for 9 months. The scholarship is a monthly allowance and offered for “doctoral level studies and research at Finnish universities or public research institutes” for 3-9 months. The application was sent to the Finnish Institute in Japan for the selection process, then a recommendation from Japan was sent to the Finnish National Agency for Education. I am one of 17 recipients and the only Japanese national to get such a grant in this round.

Mari says of her grant:

Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse sr granted funding for my research for finishing the first article of my doctoral thesis. The whole thesis is about museums as social institutions, and their possibilities for making a change in society. This article I am working on right now, bases partly on museum policy documents in Finland, and is partly a review of Nordic museum studies research during the past decade. In the article I concentrate especially on the concept of participation, its usage and varying functions. Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse sr works for support of nonprofit action in different areas of science and culture. I thank for the foundation’s confidence and appreciate this opportunity to concentrate fully on the writing process for the next few months.
We are thrilled for both Mari and Shikoh, and we hope they’re finding time to celebrate! Onnea!
”Champagne and strawberries” by Chris Eason is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Exploring Helsinki’s Public Past

A blog post by Benjamin Filene

I arrived to Helsinki two weeks ago, on a Fulbright Mid-Career Professional Development Grant, thanks to the generosity and diligence of Dr. Suzie Thomas, my official host through the Fulbright Program.  Back home in the United States, I serve as Chief Curator at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, a position I have held for a year.  Prior to that, I ran a Museum Studies graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a dozen years, and before that, I spent nine at the Minnesota History Center, where I was Senior Exhibit Developer.

At Suzie’s invitation, I offer here a snapshot of my goals for my time in Finland.  Perhaps they can serve as the benchmark that I refer back to at the end of my stay (in May 2019), to see how things turned out!

I come with an academic interest in public memory and a professional one in trying to make history relevant and meaningful to contemporary audiences.  Most broadly, my aim is to explore the role history plays in public life here in Finland and to gain perspectives that I can take home to my museum work.  There are three areas that I hope to pursue:

A scan of the history-making landscape:

Who makes history in Helsinki?  I am eager to visit and meet with staff at history museums and historic sites in the city (and beyond), to learn how they perceive their audiences, what formats they find effective to engage them, and how they conceive of their institution’s mission in relation to the contemporary life of their city and its citizens.

New perspectives on museology and training:

What skills do museum workers need, and what is the relationship between research and practice in training them?  While the university systems in Finland and American differ considerably, many of the core issues remain the same.  My time here is an opportunity to see different approaches in action, compare notes with Suzie and the other program leaders here, and refine my sense of what a future, more internationalized field might look like.

Benjamin Filene talking at the Current Trends in Museological Research course in January 2018.

I spent my first week here attending and then guest-teaching in a lively graduate seminar on Current Trends in Museological Research, led by Suzie and her colleague Nina Robbins.  I was impressed by the sophistication of the students’ insights, their earnest engagement with the issues at hand, and the professional experience that they bring to the discussion.

Immersion in professional practice:

How can museums function effectively as public institutions?  During my time here, I will be working closely with the Helsinki City Museum, to gain a sense of how an innovative institution operates.  I will be completing a project for them (a conceptual plan for either the Tram Museum or the Worker Housing Museum) and, along the way, exploring how the staff approaches the process of building a project team, creating community connections, and integrating insights and approaches from multiple disciplines.

Historical trams are a popular part of the Helsinki City Museums’ collection.
Kuva: Yehia Eweis / Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

It is exciting to be in a position to ask big, open-ended questions and to have partners eager to help me seek answers.  If you yourself have thoughts or suggestions for me, please do contact me at benjamin.filene@ncdcr.gov.  I look forward to sharing some of my findings down the road!

Advancing University Collections without a Museum

By Shikoh Shiraiwa

Paintinf of Lot and his Daughter
Lot and His Daughter
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Melton Legacy Collection

The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) is located in Edmond, Oklahoma, USA. I started working at the Archives and Special Collections (UCO Archives) in October 2016. The UCO Archives is a part of the university’s Max Chambers Library. As the university does not have a museum or dedicated gallery space for the permanent collections, the UCO Archives took an initiative to be a caretaker of the university’s most significant visual objects, supported by the university president. I am as an Archives Specialist with museum study background, my job is to manage a variety of collections; including Melton Legacy Collection (sixteenth to twentieth-century European and American art, e.g., Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Studio of El Greco, Edvard Munch, and Grant Wood), African Art Collection (more than 1,300 visual objects, representing more than 100 cultures and societies from twenty-one different nations,) Oklahoma Art Collection (more than 400 art objects including Native American Art,) and others. After few years of reorganizing the collection management system and developing new educational programs, we officially opened the “UCO Collections Exhibition” in October 2018 at the Library.

Leopard Royal Stool Cameroon Grasslands African Art Collection
Leopard Royal Stool, Cameroon Grasslands, African Art Collection

“UCO Collections Exhibition” is a collaborative and experimental exhibition, partnering with various departments and colleges on campus, including history collection from the History and Geography Department, natural history collection from the Biology Department, fashion collection from the College of Education and Professional Studies, and research posters from Global Art and Visual Culture program. This collaboration enhances the visibility of the university’s collection, as well as, developing further academic programs utilizing the collections.

A total of nine different collections are

Fashion Collection and African Art Collection
Fashion Collection and African Art Collection

exhibited; Melton Legacy Collection, African Art Collection, Oceanic Art Collection, Central and South American Art Collection (including Mayan and Inca objects), Oklahoma Art Collection, Bob and Kathy Thomas Collection (twentieth and twenty-first century American West and Native American Art), Fashion Collection, History Collection, and Natural History Collection. All of the objects are displayed in the glass cases on the same floor, which protects the objects.

Natural History Collection, History Collection, and student research posters
Natural History Collection, History Collection, and student research posters

One of the main ideas of this exhibition was every object displayed in the same glass cases equally next to each other. Often the cultural objects are categorized through the sociocultural, sociopolitical, and socioeconomic bias creating a hierarchy on the cultures and societies through the Euro-centric perspective as museums are frequently separated into fine art, anthropology, natural history, and so on. In this exhibition, African, Oceanic, Native American, and Central and South American art objects are displayed next to paintings by Rubens, Thomas Moran, and Grant Wood, challenging the audience to see all the cultural objects as equal indicating there are various ideas of aesthetic, form, and meaning in different cultures and societies.

Another significant element of this exhibition was to introduce revised African Art Collection description, which is acknowledging the interpretations of the African cultures are often standardized through the narrative of Euro-centric aesthetics, material culture, and sociopolitical system.

The Chambers library states, “It is imperative for all of us to remember the majority of the African artworks are not created to be displayed in a museum and gallery settings. Most of the African objects here at UCO have been taken out of context.” “Chambers Library would like to acknowledge this tremendous paradox of “displaying” African regalia in a

Yoruba’s visual objects from African Art Collection with Thomas Moran painting from Melton Legacy Collection
Yoruba’s visual objects from African Art Collection with Thomas Moran painting from Melton Legacy Collection

museum setting. Also, in general, the Library acknowledges the complex sociopolitical relationship often creating issues between Western narratives (as they are often understood as a universal standard) towards Non-Western objects, such as African and Native American objects. We are determined to continue researching and pursuing the best practice to care for these collections and we are constantly reevaluate proper display methods.”

The Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

By Suzie Thomas

During my research mobility period as an Affiliate at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in the city of Norman, USA, I have had the chance to visit lots of fascinating museums. One of my favourites, and part of the university, is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Although in name a Natural History museum with palaeontology, mammology and natural history collections, the museum also houses ethnographic and archaeological collections. Much of the cultural material relates to Native American cultures in Oklahoma and elsewhere (prehistoric, historic and contemporary), but there is also a developing collection of world cultures. This collection’s expansion brings many examples of art and culture that cannot be seen anywhere else in the state.

Front of the Sam Noble Museum on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.

I’ve been able to visit the exhibition areas, and also had the privilege of spending several hours with museum director Dr Daniel Swan, during which time we talked about the activities of the museum, and looked at some of the behind-the-scenes collection stores. I was also very curious about the relationship between the museum and the rest of the university, since University of Helsinki also has several museums, and we work hard to collaborate on subjects such as museum studies. The museum staff at Sam Noble are active in research and also university teaching – taking responsibility for leading courses at OU, and for supervising Masters’ theses and Doctoral dissertations. In addition, the museum takes on numerous student interns, helping train future museum professionals and researchers.

Some of the beautiful Native American moccasins in the ethnographic collection store.

One of Sam Noble Museum’s most notable activities is its vital work collecting and documenting Native American languages, many of which are severely endangered. Many of these languages are found in Oklahoma, although documentation exists in the collection from other parts of the USA as well. Events around this work include the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, which won the UMAC Award in 2017. UMAC (University Museums and Collections) is one of ICOM’s (International Council of Museums) international committees, and is global in its reach; Dr Swan received the award on behalf of the Sam Noble Museum at UMAC’s annual conference in 2017 in Helsinki.

The museum collection stores and conservation facilities are impressive, and I was fascinated to see enormous dinosaur bones and fossils in storage, as well as many original type specimens in the mammology collection; these are, in other words, the preserved first ever specimens from new species are discovered and named. Needless to say, both conservation and security are vital – especially in a state known for its inclement and sometimes unpredictably destructive weather (we are in Tornado Alley, after all). I learned about how the Norman Fire Service undergo special training so as to know which parts of the collection must be evacuated first, and how, in the event of natural disaster.

Part of the temperature and humidity controlled ethnographic collection store.

The permanent exhibitions cover the major geological periods, as well as showing contemporary flora and fauna from the diverse ecosystems of Oklahoma. An anthropology gallery shows Palaeo-Indian artefacts and periods, as well as more recent Native American history. This includes describing the so-called “Trail of Tears” when many Native American Tribes were displaced from their original territories to Oklahoma, only later to lose their land again as white European settlers arrived and staked claims to what was then called Indian Territory.

In addition, the temporary exhibition area tries to show ethnographic displays as well as natural history ones. The current ‘blockbuster’ exhibition when I visited was “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” showing the breathtaking scale of this now extinct fish. From what I saw, the exhibition is extremely popular, especially with younger visitors.

The museum is also active in outreach and education, welcoming many school visits to the museum. Another project I really liked the sound of is ExplorOlogy, taking school-age children on expeditions to experience field-based research. This includes Palaeo Expedition, which takes pupils into the field to participate in paleontological excavations.

A pentaceratops on display – also the largest land animal skull ever discovered, this one was found in neighbouring New Mexico.

I really liked the depth of the extent to which Sam Noble Museum staff play an active role in university education, and loved that it also engages with different communities, and especially young people, across Oklahoma. The museum also plays host to several events as part of Oklahoma Archaeology Month – a month-long celebration of archaeology across the state, coordinated by Oklahoma Public Archaeology Network with participants from museum, universities, local avocational groups and more.

Museum Security: Reflections on a new course

By Suzie Thomas.

In May 2018, University of Helsinki had a first. A course on Museum Security ran for the first time, and as a joint course with Laurea University of Applied Sciences, it also represented a first ever teaching collaboration with that particular institution. Teachers responsible were Suzie Thomas from the University, and Anssi Kuusela, Reijo Lähde and Soili Martikainen from Laurea University.

The course was open to students of Museum Studies from Helsinki, to students of Safety, Security and Risk Management from Laurea, and also to students of the Open University.

The Collections store of the National Museum of Finland in Vantaa. Head of Conservation Eero Ehanti gave us a detailed tour.

In many ways the course was a pilot, presenting challenges for the teachers to provide content that was relevant and usable for students from quite different backgrounds, including a large representation of international students. We covered themes such as insurance, handling touring exhibitions, and developing risk assessments for museums. We visited sites with particular security needs such as the Seurasaari Open Air Museum and the National Museum of Finland’s collection store in Vantaa.

The students were encouraged to work together with each other for several of the assignments, and we took care to make sure that everyone worked with someone from a different institution to their own.

Mikko Teräsvirta talked about staff and visitor safety on location at Seurasaari Open Air Museum.

We had some very positive experiences on the course, and as teachers we were very impressed and happy with the ways that the students collaborated together, and that the guest lecturers all provided important and fascinating information to enhance the course. Given the sensitive nature of security issues and questions, we are very grateful for the positivity of museum professionals and others to contribute. There were obviously certain aspects of security practice that museums couldn’t discuss with the students, but we wouldn’t have expected anything different.

We also met challenges however, and it was clear that certain aspects of the course were more useful to students from one discipline than from another. Student feedback also pointed to areas where we might look to add more detail in the future, and we know that some of the delivery would be smoother in the future, now that we have the experience of running the course one time already. Almost all the students rated the collaboration between Helsinki and Laurea as ”extremely positive” in their feedback, which is good news for taking this course forward and developing it further.

Students visited the exhibitions at Espoo City Museum following a lecture from Eeva Kyllönen about security considerations for arranging touring exhibitions and loans.

In the end, the course – which was possibly unique – owes a lot to the contributing guest lecturers and also to the students for coming with an open mind and a willingness to engage with this important topic.

New open access article on teaching museum studies at the University of Helsinki

The international peer-reviewed journal Museum Management and Curatorship recently published an article from University of Helsinki authors Suzie Thomas, Anna Wessman and Eino Heikkilä. The article comes out of research and consultations carried out to help redevelop the museum studies courses at the University of Helsinki in light of the degree programme restructuring. The article, titled ”Redesigning the museum studies programme at the University of Helsinki: towards collaborative teaching and learning”, has the following abstract:

The University of Helsinki has made significant changes to its educational frameworks and degree programmes. For museum studies the changes have been particularly far-reaching. From autumn 2017 onwards there has been a reduction in the total number of study credits available, but also a move from bachelors- to masters-level teaching. This upheaval presented an opportunity to redesign the course in an inclusive way, consulting both with museum professionals and museum studies graduates in Finland and further afield. The resulting courses aim to implement collaboratively the preferences of these consultees, while staying true to the university’s own requirements. In this article, we reflect upon the evaluation process and offer insights that we hope are useful both to museum professionals that have (or wish to have) a relationship with a university museum studies programme, and also for the teachers and researchers involved in devising and delivering these programmes.

Keywords: Museum studiesmuseologyconsultationevaluationcollaborative teachingUniversity pedagogy

The article, published open access, is available via the journal’s web pages.

Where Are the Borders? Call for papers

Nordic museums profile themselves in the international museum field through a common vision of museums as institutions that support individual and community identity work; that support reconstruction of active citizenship, and that create space for multicultural discussions. Their task is to transcend the borders.Nordisk museumsförbundFinland (the Nordic Museum Association Finland) and Museum Studies, University of Helsinki welcome you to the conference:


(Conference pages also available in Swedish)

Nordic countries are considered to be prime examples of good cooperation and neighbourly relations. However there are, and have been, many different kinds of borders as well. Historically, we have fought for national borders and self-determination. Today we have cultural borders, different ethnic groups, and language barriers. Emigration has been a major phenomenon and migration within and between the Nordic countries continues. Immigration, marginalization and polarization are major social issues in all Nordic countries. Social class and gender can also create borders.
Museums can be a facilitator and forum for crossing borders. What do the historical and cultural borders and neighboring relations mean for Nordic museum operations and collections? Are there also museological borders? Where are the borders for the individual employee? What about power and ethics?
• Are there borders also within and between museums?
• How are borders defined in an art museum or in a cultural history museum, for example?
• Which border phenomena have visibility?
• How do these borders affect the collections? What new borders arise during the musealization process?
• Where are the borders between knowledge and entertainment? Is there room for scientific work?
• Can museums decide their borders for themselves? To what extent are the borders determined by the public and different interest groups?
• What challenges do the Nordic vision encounter in the 2020s?

We welcome presentations from both theoretical and practical viewpoints. Students and early carrier scholars are also encouraged to participate. Our aim is to create dialogue between today’s and future museology and its practitioners.


Curator Áile Aikio, Siida the National museum of the Finnish Sámi, Inari, Finland
Museum Director, PhD, Sanne Houby-Nielsen, The Nordic Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
Professor Simon Knell, Museum Studies, University of Leicester, UK

Presentations can take the form of a PowerPoint presentation, a panel debate or a poster. We also welcome suggestions for other forms of presentation. Please state in your abstract the type of presentation you are aiming for. The length of a PowerPoint presentation is 15 minutes, and panel debate 40 minutes. A panel should consist of a moderator and max 3 other discussants from at least 2 different countries.

Submitting paper proposals

The length of the abstract proposal is max 400 words, and should contain the presentation title and 3–10 key words. Please submit paper proposals by February 2nd, 2018 using the EasyChair Submission page. The submission page opened December 4th, 2017, and closes February 2nd, 2018. There is also help available in submitting your text using EasyChair. Approved abstracts will be publicized on the conference webpage and programme. Any questions should be sent to the conference email-adress: NMAHelsinki@helsinki.fi.

Important dates

Deadline for abstract submission: February 2nd, 2018
Accepted proposals will be notified by March 31st, 2018.
Registration starts by April 4th, 2018
Early bird registration deadline: June, 3rd, 2018

Museologian seminaari 2018 hakee puheenvuoroja / The museology seminar 2018 asks for proposals

Museologian seminaari 2018 järjestetään 19.-20.4.2018 Jyväskylässä. Seminaarin aiheena on alkuperäiskansojen kulttuuriperintö ja representointi museoissa, ja aiheeseen liittyviä puheenvuoroehdotuksia pyydetään 12.1.2018 mennessä. Call for papers löytyy kokonaisuudessaan osoitteesta: http://museologian-seminaari-2018.webnode.fi/l/cfp/.

Jyväskylän yliopiston museologian opiskelijoiden järjestämä museologian seminaari on pidetty vuodesta 1996 lähtien joka vuosi. Museologian seminaarin tarkoituksena on paneutua museoalan ajankohtaisiin kysymyksiin ja edistää museoalan opiskelijoiden ja ammattilaisten verkostoitumista. Seminaari järjestetään yhteistyössä ICOM – Suomen komitean ja Museoalan ammattiliiton kanssa.

Museologian seminaari 2018 löytyy myös Facebookista: @museologianseminaari2018

By Arto Sipinen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Jyväskylä University museology seminar will be held 19​th-20th of April 2018. The theme of the seminar this year is cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and its representation and use in the museum field. We ask for proposals regarding the theme to be sent to us by 12th of January 2018. Call for papers is available at:  http://museologian-seminaari-2018.webnode.fi/l/cfp/.

The seminar is arranged by the students of museology of the University of Jyväskylä. The seminar is organised in collaboration with ICOM Finland and the Union of Academic Museum Employees in Finland.

Museology seminar 2018 is at Facebook: @museologianseminaari2018

Staffing updates; some changes for 2018 / Henkilöstöuutisia ja vuoden 2018 muutoksia

From January 2018, Suzie Thomas will work as Professor of Cultural Heritage Studies, covering the teaching and research related to Cultural Heritage Studies for the year. Nina Robbins will become a full time University Lecturer in Museum Studies, and will take on the responsibility for delivering the Museum Studies courses for the same period (apart from Museum Security course in May, which Suzie will still teach). From February 2018 Anna Wessman starts her role as Researcher on the Academy of Finland project SuALT, and will teach one course in Museum Studies, which will be announced later.

 We’re all excited about working with the students, museum and other heritage institutions over the coming year, and wish you all the best for the holiday season!


Tammikuun alusta Suzie Thomas aloittaa työnsä kulttuuriperintötutkimuksen professorina ja toimii vuoden ajan oppiaineen opetuksen ja tutkimuksen parissa. Nina Robbins puolestaan aloittaa museologian yliopistolehtorin tehtävässä ja hoitaa suurimman osan Suzien kursseista museologian oppiaineessa vuoden 2018 aikana. Suzie vetää museoiden turvallisuuteen keskittyvän kurssin toukokuussa ja Nina hoitaa muut kurssit. Anna Wessman aloittaa akatemiantutkijan tehtävässä helmikuussa 2018 keskittyen SuALT projektiin. Hän myös vetää yhden museologian kurssin, jonka sisällöstä tiedotetaan myöhemmin.

Odotamme kovasti vuotta 2018 ja meistä kaikista on ilo jatkaa työtä heritologia-aineiden kehittämisen parissa.

Toivotamme teille kaikille erittäin rauhaisaa ja mukavaa lomakautta!

Suzie, Anna ja Nina