Svendborg & Omegns Museum

Maria Rytter

curator

Svendborg & Omegns Museum

Grubbemollevej 13 DK-5700 Svendborg Denmark

www.svendborgmuseum.dk

Do not think about your father and mother

We are proud to present the website www.boernehjem.nu. This has been awarded "best web application in a Nordic Museum" at the NODEM festival "Nordic Digital Excellence in Museums" 2003*. The web site is an integral part of a permanent exhibition at Svendborg Omegns Museum called: "Do not think about your father and mother". It opened at the Svendborg Omegns Museum in July 2002 and presents the history of childrenacute;s living conditions in Danish Children's Homes in the 20th century. The exhibition is the first in Denmark about this subject. We discovered that for most of the former inhabitants of Children's Homes, it was an untold story of suffering, pain and shame.  

The exhibition
The exhibition covers about 350 square meters. Two rooms are dedicated the Internet project. One room has a neon sign, metal walls with updated newspaper cuttings from the running debate about children in institutions, fancy tables, chairs and four black computers and a vending machine for sweets. In the adjacent room which seats 20 people, there is a video showing selections of the internet exhibition about life today in Danish Children's Homes. The video and internet exhibition are created by Laura Rytter Holm and the texts are taken from her interviews with children currently living in children's homes.

Internet is cool
Right from the beginning we intended to bring the history of children in Children's Homes up to the present time. We were eager to update our knowledge by exploring the present life of children in institutions. At first this seemed impossible  because of the legal issues of confidentiality and anonymity surrounding children currently living in such institutions.
At an early stage we realised that the internet was the tool which could open up this  world for us. So we invented the web site www.boernehjem.nu  which opened the doors to all the institutions and allowed us to present this world virtually. The children and youngsters themselves felt that it was COOL to exhibit on the Internet - many felt that it was as cool as being on TV. And the staff were in full control of the situation. The kids could be anonymous, the exhibition need only show a hand, a cheek or a shoe rather than full photos. Even the institution could be anonymous and two out of three chose this option. One institution even demanded that only the gender of the children could be given, not their first name. A few children obtained permission from their parents or guardian to participate with first name and photo.  

A virtual collection
On the web site the visitors all gain insight in the life of "removed" children right now. They can watch exhibitions such as: "Christmas preparations", "An ordinary day in a boys and a girls life",  "Drawings" and "Now and Then", which is a photo collage with old and new photographs. New exhibitions will come. In a virtual archive called the "Kartotek" the children themselves have chosen artefacts presenting their daily life. Here you find everything from piercings to cell phones, hymn books, shoes and a sheep with the name Dagny. The artefacts are photographed with a digital camera and the information or stories connected with the artefact written down on the internet. The internet site has two versions one for adults and one for children.        

New services
We have developed a range of special services for visitors to the website. In the guestbook (Gaestebog) on the internet the visitors can write their comments about the exhibition. Adults who once lived in Children's Homes can search for lost friends (Efterlysning) and at "Ask the Museum" (Spoergsmaal og Svar) visitors and students can send question about the life and history of children's institutions and get an answer. More than 450 people have written to the museum in the first year. 

The guestbook (Gaestebog)
29/7 2002 Judith Rinda Christensen, age 73, occupation: Former teacher.
It has been an amazing and slightly shocking experience to see the exhibition. I thought it was a thing of the past for me, but many new memories emerged through my confrontation with the environment. It has been a great pleasure that my daughter came with me today to see the exhibition. There were many things which were easier to explain to her through the exhibition. Thank you.

Others write about their experiences from a childhood in an institution. A man wrote a long statement:
10/11 2002 Brian Petersen, age 46, grew up at two Children's Homes from 1964 to 1974.
"I have both positive and negative memories. The negative are mostly connected to the shame it was to be a "boslash;rnehjemsunge" (child in a Childrens Home)  in the 1960s in Denmark. All the schoolmates knew what kind of child you were and we were constantly teased or mobbed, as it is called today. If only you could know how much pain it coused. As I sit here and write now, tears are running down my cheeks and I am covered in goosebumps. 
And later:
Certainly it was hard to live at a children's home. Robot-like discipline everywhere. But if you were  obedient you were able to survive. But the deprivation! The loss of father and mother. It never disappeared. Even though we were placed at the institution because of our father, we still longed for him. I know that it sounds contradictory, but who says that children are logical in their thinking.

The value of being interactive
At Svendborg Museum we have experienced that it is possible to update an exhibition through a website. But another interesting result came out of the website. We realised that we had the possibility to be interactive. Through the internet, we are able to be in a constant dialogue with not only our daily visitors, but also with an audience who not yet have been to the museum. Our impression is that the audience is gratified with this new development in the museum world. They are eager to contribute to the museum with their opinion or with a piece of information. They can react on the spot while at the exhibition itself, or they can do it at home at their own computer. Through the website they are involved in the story told at the museum. The story about children's life in Danish Children's Homes could not have been told without this interaction.

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*Nodem has been initiated by Visions for Museums in Sweden in collaboration with the Danish Cultural Heritage Museum's Association, Norwegian Museum's Association, FISIS/Islandic Museum's Association, The Finnish Museum's Association and the Swedish Museum's Association. It is supported by the Museums Committee of the Nordic Council.  See Nodem and the museum's reward at : www.tii.se/v4m/nodem

The www.boernehjem.nu is developed and designed by Laura Rytter Holm and Henrik Beck Jensen from the web company onClick www.onclick.dk in collaboration with Maria Rytter.