Research at the museum

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Drammens Museum's collections of objects, works of art, historic buildings and courtyards cover most aspects of Norwegian cultural heritage. The museum has a large photo collection, a cultural history archive and a library.

Drammens Museum is a scientific foundation. This requires that we have a staff with scientific competence and that all our work is research-based and verifiable. When the Ministry of Culture, in its state allocation letter to the museums, demands that these institutions not only work with administration, dissemination and renewal, but also with research, it is a demand that we, in the museum, accept gratefully. That's how we operate and that's how we want to operate. But what is research and what is its purpose? And is there any difference between different types of research?

The purpose of research is to secure new knowledge. It is driven by curiosity and is obtained through established research methods, the use of relevant theory and the current and critically renewed conceptual apparatus. And there is a difference between basic research, commissioned research, scientific research and humanities research. The museums' research, as part of the humanities research, should operate like the research that takes place at the universities' institutes of art history in terms of method requirements and verification principle. At the most serious (thorough, labor-intensive) level, research results are reviewed and processed before publishing.

But what about the "free research"? Free research does not mean that the researcher can do as it pleases. There are always premises behind the research, including what we call basic research where funding takes place with a view to later benefit and use. Climate research is funded as contract research based on the expectation that it will demonstrate that dramatic man-made climate change is taking place. At the universities, the requirements for the syllabus, lecture themes and the empirical subject itself will be decisive. In the museums, we must be able to set similar requirements, namely that the research takes place on the basis of the museum's portfolio and the museum networks, both through its collections and its exhibition program. When these principled premises, which follow grants and budgets, are respected, researchers in universities, museums and other research laboratories are free to choose methods and prepare hypotheses.

The freedom of research is that it can arrive at results that the sponsor has not necessarily wanted. The freedom of research ensures that it is not subject to ideological and political control. And if a researcher in an art and cultural history museum or at an institute of art and architectural history is primarily interested in flowers and plants, that interest must be channeled into studies of ornamentation, flower symbolism in Old Dutch paintings or new knowledge about the development of garden and park form. There are great opportunities. - And there is nothing mysterious about research, just a lot of hard work.

I just used the word "laboratory". And by that I mean that the museums also have their own research laboratories, or in other words, the exhibitions. For it is an advantage of the museums over e.g. universities: that we create exhibitions. For me who has worked with combined research and exhibition production ("curation") for over 30 years, it is obvious that exhibition production can be used as a research arena, a laboratory, where hypotheses can be developed and where the exhibition sensibly shows what the catalog text or book says. So exhibitions can be part of a research process, but an exhibition that is presented silently has little to do with research. It is to be compared with a chemistry laboratory where the test tubes are presented on the table together with protective equipment and other equipment and no questions are asked, no hypothesis formulated.  

If the exhibition is to be considered research-related, the work with it must be scientific and verifiable. The exhibition's composition and selection are part of the hypothesis and it must be developed in writing and the results published. Together, publication and exhibition provide the basis for dissemination and the museums can provide both new knowledge and rich experiences. It is this way of thinking and working that lies behind one of Drammens Museum's slogans: "No research without communication, no communication without research."

By Åsmund Thorkildsen, director of Drammens Museum