NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology

Axel Christophersen


NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology

NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet, 7491 Trondheim

www.ntnu.no/vitenskapsmuseet/

Trondheim, Norway
The Norwegian Museum of the Year 2010


NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology



The history of the NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology dates back to 1760, when the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters was established in Trondheim. In the 1700's, Trondheim and Northern Norway was considered as being on the outskirts of the world, but nevertheless an important part of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway, with access to financially important resources like copper, fish and timber. In addition to the city being an ecclesiastical centre with a magnificent cathedral, the prosperity was also the basis for a solid middle class and a dawning intellectual community inspired by the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment. The first objects in our collection date from this period, and the museum gradually developed during the subsequent 250 years. The scientific collection at the museum is now a national natural and cultural heritage.

Since 1984, the museum has been part of what today is the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The museum has historically had a strong focus on natural and cultural history with biology and archaeology as the foremost subject matters. The shift from being a museum with a very public-oriented profile - a centre for knowledge about, insight into and inspired experience of natural and cultural history for the city's population - to being part of a university focusing on scientific research, had the unfortunate consequence of the public-oriented activities being neglected and disintegrating.  

At the start of the new millennium, the whole concept of what the museum had to offer the public was in a situation that could be best described as a dead end, the exhibitions were outdated and what was on offer to the public was very insufficient, with decreasing attendance as the result. The museum was in a kind of crisis. Was it entitled to live on at all?

The situation demanded an effort, and a strategy for renewal was created. The questions that led to the strategy were crucial to developing into a more impassioned and communication-oriented museum.

What is a museum supposed to be? A passive communicator of established knowledge, or a place where one may find inspiration for creative reflection on important questions in life? Shall the museums only be a mouthpiece for the past, or shall there also be a focus on conditions of the age in which we live? Should the museum be critical and controversial, or should it take on the role of objective communicator? Shall the museum only preserve or shall it dare to challenge? Is the museum an arena for the elite, or may it have a democratizing function? How to go about getting new groups among the public to actually start using the museum? These questions formed the strategy. NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology was to sharpen its social role and become a current and relevant museum taking our day and age seriously.

Renewal is a big step for a museum. The buildings and the exhibitions are old, and finances are always a challenge, but the human resources, creativity and work effort is the most important challenge. Strong priorities have to be made, and enthusiasm and involvement have to be created. If the objective is to make changes, you cannot continue doing as you always have done. You have to think and act differently. This was the goal Director Axel Christophersen set himself when he started the shift towards a higher degree of social involvement for the museum.

It has taken almost a decade of goal-oriented work. In 2010, precisely 250 years after the establishment of our parent organization, we have been elected Museum of the Year in Norway. The museum today stands out as new and different. Partnerships and cooperation with scientific communities and other parties in the fields of information and communication have been a driving force. New exhibitions have been created, and differentiated and more dialogic forms of communication have been adopted. The exhibitions have also been structured in such a manner that they can be experienced by people at different levels, by children, by adults, by the those familiar with the subject matter of the exhibition as well as by those not familiar with it. The exhibitions are now swarming with content members of the public. We are present in and at different and varied arenas, and digital and social media are naturally a priority area.

The point of departure for the new exhibitions is the history of science exemplified through our collection. Some of our old exhibitions are integrated parts of the new ones, and thus create interesting contrasts. The approach is, on the whole, interdisciplinary. Natural science and cultural anthropology are presented together, side by side, and supplement each other. Medicine, biology, art, archaeology, physics, philosophy are all important ingredients in the exhibitions. A separate and advanced learning space pertaining to energy is fully booked throughout the school year. All students in the "ninth grade" (last year of lower secondary school or "junior high") in Trondheim are taught in this room. The foundation for this is a cooperation project with the Science Centre in Trondheim and the municipality, and this foundation points out a direction that will further empower the museum's development. We are not at the end of the road yet. We still have work to do. Our topicality and relevance is a constant challenge.

During the next decade, we will build more alliances and continue to evolve, as it were. We are already in the process of carrying out a cooperation project between the Science Center in Trondheim and the country's oldest scientific library, the Gunnerus Library, about building a new centre which is to carry on and pursue the best parts of our traditions. At the core of this lies our continuous ambition to develop our museum in close cooperation with the society around us. That is how we are going to continue to build our future - in dialogue and through interaction.