Umeå Museum of Women’s History opened 2014 in the Väven Cultural Center, welcoming visitors to what director Maria Parstedt describes as a ‘dreamlike forest”. Museum of Women’s History in Northern Sweden is the first of its kind in the world, it aims to raise issues of sex, power and identity.
Different ‘animals’ discuss examples from history alongside comments from Facebook and across the internet. “Often, when we look for women in history, all we find are spaces and gaps, blank spots and a resounding silence,” reads a statement on the museum’s website. “Women as a group – half of the current and historic population of Sweden – compared with men as a group are poorly represented in traditional historiography.”
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Deeds not words
Maria Perstedt is a cultural historian and a dedicated and passionate museum professional with more than 25 years of occupational experience from several different Swedish museums of cultural history, on local, regional and government level – the Museum of Medical History and the National Historical Museum, among others.
The motto of Emmeline Pankhurst when she was campaigning for, or rather demanding, the right to vote in Britain a little over a hundred years ago was ”Deeds, not words”. This was the first wave of feminism campaign across the world.
Women have been excluded from the social arenas that have existed at most times in most places. For no other reason women have produced fewer important inventions, been on fewer daring voyages of discovery, built fewer houses, written fewer books and painted fewer masterpieces.
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Equal rights to be heard
According to museum director Maria Perstedt, a modern approach when it comes to museums is about allowing men and women to have equal spaces in society and equal possibilities to be heard. The approach to telling history is male dominated. There is a male filter.
Museum of Women’s History in Northern Sweden
The Museum of Women’s History aims to highlight how women influence the progress of society as well as to challenge the marginalization of women in the creation and use of history. A few women do of course appear in traditional historiography. “But most of the knowledge, skills, interests, activities and memories of various women have been considered to be unimportant, less interesting, less worthy of documenting and preserving – and have therefore been excluded,” according to the museum’s website.
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“To bring about a change, to allow women’s voices to be heard, women’s experiences to be acknowledged, women’s memories to be visible, we need women’s museums,” says Perstedt.
So, what could be more fitting than to launch a Museum of Women’s History and thereby build a rich and diverse worldview by broadening the knowledge about women in society and open up space for the women of the future to be heard.
Some historians have referred to traditional history as “male genealogy”. A chronological account of wars and politics, economics and ideas that, like a well-worn path, has been shaped by descriptions of a long series of men´s deeds.
“Museums that take upon themselves to mirror that all societies are made up of people of different kinds; of different gender, sexual identities and sexual expression, of different color, ethnicity, class and functionality, can facilitate social change and actively contribute to society´s never ending development,” says Perstedt.
The Museum of Women’s History in Umeå wants to make visible and challenge the male normativity in museums, and the male interpretive prerogative in historiography.
Museum of Women’s History in Northern Sweden, written by Tor Kjolberg