Center for Global Studies

Lecture Summary

Creating Global Citizens: National Museums in Sweden and Denmark

Peggy Levitt, Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and Research Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, was hosted by the Center for Global Studies for her lecture. It was given as part of the Global Migration Transnational Politics Project, sponsored by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Levitt discussed the roles of government-funded museums in Denmark and Sweden and how each country defines its national identity through these institutions. She has found that Danish museums consider their collections as canons to preserve and reassert their identity as Danes, as well as a means to educate the public on current social issues. Because there is a fear of an erosion of the Danish national identity, museums are used as venues to exhibit the nation’s history and define the modern Danish citizen.

Sweden employs its collections to integrate all of its citizens. Each museum is a tool to be used to overcome the difficulties arising from immigration and assimilation of new citizens, and therefore, create more democratic institutions. The collections displayed are careful to encourage tolerance and are also used to host activities, such as language classes, that help integrate immigrants into the Swedish culture, as well as invite all of its citizens to be more aware of their role in a global society.

Also discussed were controversies over nations holding artifacts from former colonies (particularly by Denmark) and declining to repatriate them, the growing necessity for curators to involve diasporas in the process of displaying works from their native cultures in a relevant and politically acceptable manner, and public and political demands of curators as they try to equally address the desires of both constituents while maintaining their artistic integrity.