Open air museum

Open air museum

An open air museum is a distinct type of museum exhibiting its collections out-of-doors. The first open air museums were established in Scandinavia towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the concept soon spread throughout Europe and North America. Open air museums are variously known as skansen, museums of buildings, living farm museums, living history museum and folk museums. A more recent form is the Ecomuseum, which originated in France. A comprehensive history of the open air museum as idea and institution can be found in the Swedish museologist Sten Rentzhog's book "Open air museums. The history and future of a visionary idea", 2007.


The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines a museum as "a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, the "tangible and intangible" evidence of people and their environment." [ ICOM Statutes] Most open air museums specialize in the collection and re-erection of old buildings at large outdoor sites, usually in settings of re-created landscapes of the past. Most of them may therefore justly be described as building museums. Open air museums tended to be located originally in regions where wooden architecture prevailed, as wooden structures may be trans-located without substantial loss of authenticity.

Common to all open air museums, including the earliest ones of the 19th century, is the teaching of the history of everyday living by people from all segments of society.

European origins

The earliest open air museum appeared in Scandinavia in the late 19th century. One reason may be the ancient tradition of moving and re-erecting wooden buildings, based on the local log building technique. The idea was a predictable further development of the by then well-established indoor type of museum. In order to collect and display whole buildings, it would have to be done outdoors. Precursors of open air museums were the "exotic" pavilions, "antique" temples, "ancient ruins" and "peasant cottages" to be found in 18th century landscape parks. Later precursors were the real or constructed peasant cottages shown at the international exhibitions of the mid- to-late 19th century.

The world's first open air museum was King Oscar II's collection near Oslo in Norway, opened in 1881. The original plans comprised 8 or 10 buildings intended to show the evolution of traditional Norwegian building types since the middle ages. Only 5 were realized before the king lost interest because of the expenses involved. The royal open air museum was later incorporated into the Norsk Folkemuseum, established on an adjacent property in the 1890's. Influenced by a visit to the Norwegian open air museum, Artur Hazelius in 1891 founded the famous Skansen in Stockholm, which became the model for subsequent open air museums in Northern and Eastern Europe, and eventually in other parts of the world. The name "skansen" has also been used as a noun to refer to other open-air museums and collections of historic structures, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

Around 1900, national and regional open air museums were established in all Scandinavian countries, notably in Norway and Sweden.

North American interpretation

The North American open air museum, more commonly called a living history museum, had a different, slightly later origin than the European, and the visitor experience is different. The first was Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan (1928), where Ford intended his collection to be "a pocket edition of America" [Kenneth Hudson, "Museums of Influence", Cambridge University Press, 1987. p. 153] . But it was Colonial Williamsburg (opened in 1934) which had a greater influence on museum development in North America. It influenced such projects through the continent as Mystic Seaport, Plimoth Plantation, and Fortress Louisbourg. What tends to differentiate the North American from the European model is the approach to interpretation. In Europe, the tendency is to usually, but not always, focus on the building.

In North America, the open air museums invariably include interpreters who dress in period costume and conduct period crafts and everyday work. [Ibid, p. 154] The living museum is therefore viewed as an attempt to recreate to the fullest extent conditions of a culture, natural environment or historical period. The objective is total immersion, using exhibits so that visitors can experience the specific culture, environment or historical period using all the physical senses. Performance and historiographic practices at American living museums have been critiqued in the past several years by scholars in anthropology and theater for creating false senses of authenticity and accuracy, and for neglecting to bear witness to some of the darker aspects of the American past (e.g., slavery and other forms of injustice). Even before such critiques were published, sites such as Williamsburg and others had begun to add more interpretation of difficult history. [Scott Magelssen, "Living History Museums: Undoing History Through Performance", Scarecrow Press, 2007] .

elected list of open air and living museums


* A list of about 250 european open air museums (in German)
*Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings, Worcestershire, England
*Amberley Working Museum, Amberley, West Sussex, England
*Beamish, North of England Open Air Museum, Beamish, County Durham, England
*Black Country Living Museum, Dudley, West Midlands, England
*Blists Hill Victorian Town, Telford, Shropshire, England
*Biskupin Archaeological Museum, Poland
*Cogges Manor Farm Museum, Witney, Oxfordshire, England
*Drvengrad ("Mećavnik, Küstendorf"), Mokra Gora (Zlatibor), Serbia
*Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex, Gabrovo, Bulgaria
*Hanácký skanzen (Skanzen of the Haná Region), Příkazy, Czech Republic
*Little Woodham, Gosport, Hampshire, England
*Museum lidových staveb (Folk Buildings Museum), Kouřim, Czech Republic
* Murton Park / Yorkshire Museum of Farming in Murton, York, England
*St Fagans National History Museum, Cardiff, Wales
*Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Wenecja near Żnin, Poland
*Nederlands Openluchtmuseum, Arnhem, The Netherlands
*The Old Town, Aarhus, Denmark
*Open Air Museum Bokrijk, Belgium, Flanders, Limburg, Genk
*Orvelte, The Netherlands
*Polabské národopisné muzeum (Ethnographic Museum of the region of Polabí), Přerov nad Labem, Czech Republic - the oldest skansen in Central and Eastern Europe
*Luostarinmäki, Turku, Finland
*Jamtli, Östersund, Sweden
*Kulturen, Lund, Sweden
*Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, Seurasaari, Helsinki, Finland
*Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden
*Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo, Norway
*Maihaugen, Lillehammer, Norway
*Roscheider Hof , Germany
*Mödlareuth, Germany
*Staro selo ("Old Village" open air museum), Sirogojno (Zlatibor), Serbia
*Valašské národopisné muzeum (Valachian Ethnographic Museum), Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, Czech Republic
*Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Sussex, England
*Zuiderzeemuseum] , Enkhuizen, The Netherlands
* [ Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum] , Rocca al Mare, near Tallinn, Estonia
*Viimsi Vabaõhumuuseum, Viimsi, near Tallinn, Estonia


*The Pharaonic Village, Cairo, Egypt


*Port Arthur, Tasmania
*Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, Victoria
*Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement, Swan Hill, Victoria
*Millewa Pioneer Forest and Historical Village, Meringur, Victoria
*Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, Warrnambool, Victoria
*Old Sydney Town, Somersby, New South Wales (now closed)


*Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada (Citadel Hill), Halifax, Nova Scotia
*Westfield Heritage Village, Ontario
*Barkerville, British Columbia
*Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto, Ontario
*Fort Henry, Ontario
*Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton, Alberta
*Fort Langley National Historic Site, Fort Langley, British Columbia
*Fortress Louisbourg, Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
*Fort William Historical Park, Thunder Bay, Ontario
*Fort York, Toronto, Ontario
*Markham Museum, Markham, Ontario
*Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, Midland, Ontario
*Upper Canada Village, Morrisburg, Ontario
*Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, Alberta
*Heritage Park Historical Village, Calgary, Alberta
*Burnaby Historical Village, Burnaby, British Columbia

United States

*Agrirama, Tifton, Georgia
*Allaire Village, Wall Township, New Jersey
*Claude Moore Colonial Farm, McLean, Virginia
*Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia
*Conner Prairie, Fishers, Indiana
*Heritage Village Museum, Sharonville, Ohio
*Historic Deerfield, Deerfield, Massachusetts
*Historic Cold Spring Village, Cape May, New Jersey
*Fort Snelling, Minneapolis, Minnesota
*Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, Virginia
*Genesee Country Village and Museum, Mumford, New York
*Hale Farm & Village, Bath, Ohio
*Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan
*Jamestown Settlement, Jamestown, Virginia
*Jerusalem Mill, Kingsville, Maryland
*Little Norway, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
*Living History Farms, Urbandale, Iowa
*National Colonial Farm, Accokeek, Maryland
*Lincoln's New Salem, Menard County, Illinois
*Ohio Village, Columbus, Ohio
*Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Old Bethpage, New York
*Old Salem, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
*Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts
*Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, Wisconsin
*Oliver Miller Homestead, South Park Township, Pennsylvania
*Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Mercer County, Kentucky
*Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Massachusetts
*Pioneer Living History Village, Phoenix, Arizona
*Polynesian Cultural Center, Lā'ie, Hawai'i, United States
*Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
*San Dieguito Heritage Museum, Encinitas, California
*South Park City, Fairplay, Colorado
*Westville, Lumpkin, Georgia

Living transportation museums

*Brooklands in Weybridge, Elmbridge, Surrey, England (aviation and motorcar museum)
*Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland (heritage canal)
*Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado (heritage railway)
*Delta Queen travels along the Mississippi River and tributaries (heritage river steamboat)
*Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum in Bremerhaven, Germany (maritime museum)
*Edaville Railroad in South Carver, Massachusetts (heritage railway)
*Hiroshima City Transportation Museum in Hiroshima, Japan (street railway museum)
*Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut (maritime museum)
*National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire, England (heritage street railway)
*Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, New York (aviation museum)
*Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine (heritage railway)
*Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire, England (aviation museum)
*Skansen Parowozownia Kościerzyna in Kościerzyna, Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland (heritage railway)
*Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania (heritage railway)
*Valley Railroad Company in Essex, Connecticut (heritage railway)
*White Pass and Yukon Route from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon (heritage railway)
*Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway in Alna, Maine (heritage railway)

Ecological and environmental living museums

Some ecological living museums are zoos
*California Living Museum, Bakersfield, California, United States
*Virginia Living Museum, Newport News, Virginia, United States
*Nonsuch Island Living Museum, Bermuda


ee also

* Historical reenactment
* List of tourist attractions providing reenactment
* Living history

External links

* [ Revista Digital Nueva Museologia] Latin American Theory
* [ European Open-air Museums] An extensive list of Open-air museums in Europe.
* [ Open Air Museum Bokrijk] Leading open air museum of Belgium, Flanders.
* [ Přerov nad Labem open air museum - photo gallery]
* [ Valachian Ethnographic Museum in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, Czech Republic]
* [ Hjerl Hede] - An open-air museum in Denmark showing life from the early days until about 100 years ago.
* [ The Old Town (Den Gamle By)] - An open-air museum in Denmark showing urban life.
* [ Jamtli] - One of Sweden's largest and oldest regional open-air museums, in Östersund.

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