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2000 "Museums for Peace and Harmony in Society"

   This year's theme, "Museums for Peace and Harmony in Society", reflected the United Nations's declaration of the year 2000 as "International Year for a Culture of Peace". The first issue of ICOM News this year was dedicated to the role of museums in creating and promoting a culture of peace, and many museums followed this theme in their celebrations.

Museums for Peace and Harmony in Society.

Museums for peace, peace museums...

Terence Duffy, Director of the Irish Peace Museum Project and teacher of Peace Studies at the University of Ulster, gives us an overview of the emergence of the peace museum concept and its current developments, and broaches how "conventional" museums are working for peace.

"Peace" is becoming a central theme in the programming of many national museums, and among museum professionals. However, while there are few countries that do not possess either museums or monuments commemorating war, peace museums have, until recently, been comparatively scarce. Precisely because of the historical attention devoted to national "deeds of battle", peace museums have far to go before they can achieve the kind of civic attention that is still devoted to museums of war. More must be done to recover and exhibit aspects of our society's history that might constitute a "culture of peace", and in this light it is pleasing that ICOM is devoting this issue of ICOM NEWS to the "culture of peace" in the museum world.

The birth of the peace museum

Despite the comparative scarcity of peace museums, there has emerged a distinct "peace museum concept" which is recognisable both in a unique family of museums, and also in an emerging museological tradition.1 Identifying the first example of a "peace museum" is difficult, but probably it was the Hague Peace Palace, founded by Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s. It personifies "peace through international law". The Peace Palace is a notable exception to the vociferously "anti-war" message of the earliest peace museums, such as Jean de Bloch's International Museum of War and Peace, which was founded in 1902 in Lucerne, Switzerland. He had taken the view that "war itself is the strongest testimony against war" but ironically the museum was destroyed by the war it sought to prevent. Ernst Friedrich's famous Anti-War Museum, established in 1923, suffered the same fate. Through photographs of mutilated soldiers and war paraphernalia, Friedrich had hoped to convey "war's true nature". Predictably, the Nazi government destroyed the museum. In 1940, another peace exhibition he had established in Brussels did not survive the German invasion. Thus, these early precursors of the peace museum tradition were enveloped by global war.2
Nevertheless, they helped formulate the concept, and the same "anti-war" message is kept alive by museums established much later in the century. In Germany one thinks of Berlin's Anti-War Museum under the German Anti-War Museum Society; and the Peace Library and Anti-War Museum of the German Evangelical Church, both formed in the early 1980s. One also notes the Bridge at the Remagen Peace Museum, Germany, founded in 1980 on the famous "war bridge"; and the Anti-War House which opened at Sieverhausen in 1981. The Caen Memorial Museum, France, and the World Centre for Peace, Freedom and Human Rights at Verdun, (which commenced in 1988 and 1993, respectively) are also constructed on twentieth-century battlefields.

Current peace museum developments

Modern peace museums certainly reach beyond the restrictive "anti-war" message of their predecessors, by positing a global search for peace. At this very moment, plans are well under way for a new African Peace Museum in Kenya, and a national peace museum in the United Kingdom is a real possibility. In Oslo a museum is soon to preserve the history of Nobel Peace Laureates, and a new museum opened in May 1999 in the Hague, exhibiting that city's many associations with international peace. There are plans for museums of UN peacekeeping; the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York has launched an exhibition on their founder's legacy to peace culture; and in Costa Rica, the Oscar Arias Foundation has ambitious plans for a Peace Museum for Central America. In November 1998, the third in a series of international peace museum conferences was held in Kyoto and Osaka, Japan, including fieldwork visits to peace sites in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Okinawa. The emergence of a network of such museums and kindred institutions marks a land-mark in the maturation of the peace museum idea as we enter the new millennium. One hopes that the role of peace museums might receive wider public recognition during the "international year for a culture of peace" which is being enthusiastically supported by UNESCO, the UN system, and by the efforts of agencies such as ICOM. Increasingly, in numerous countries, peace museums are receiving governmental support, and the museum public has probably never been more responsive to the "peace museum" idea.

The diversity of peace museums

It is clear that peace museums encompass a range of diverse museums and institutions. For that reason, it is important to offer an inclusive "umbrella" definition. It is also possible to formulate broad observations about trends in the creation of "peace museums". First, there are named "peace museums", such as Chicago's Peace Museum, and indeed more than twenty such museums exist across the world. Their specialities span issues of regional peace (such as Germany's Meeder Peace Museum), the global emphases of the League of Nations Museum in Geneva and the search for peace "within peoples", as in the desire for harmony among Koreans, expressed by the Yi Jun Peace Museum in Holland. Then there are entities which have been formed in response to specific events. One thinks of museums of the holocaust (such as Yad Vashem in Israel) and the interpretative centres at the many former concentration camps (such as those at Dachau in Germany, and Auschwitz in Poland). These entities too deserve to be treated as part of the encompassing traditions of the peace museum movement.
Then there are museums which focus on humanitarian action, such as the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, or the International Red Cross Museum in Geneva. One should also include "museums of non-violence", notably the collection of Gandhi museums dotted across India, with satellite entities in Europe, Australia and the USA. Finally, it can be argued that any museum which concentrates on peace issues has the potential to serve as a "museum of peace". It will, of course, be realised that certain museums cut across definitions and fall under a number of these categories. Taken together, these diverse entities share a common commitment to the preservation of the history of peacemaking and thus of peace culture.

Museums for peace

Importantly, many "conventional" galleries and museums have in recent years chosen to prioritise exhibitions which include materials directly related to peace and to the peace movement. What distinguishes "war museums" from "peace museums" lies less in the physical heritage - the content of the museum - than in the approach of the curators. "Conventional" museums are increasingly contributing to the promotion (directly and indirectly) of a "culture of peace". The work of museum professionals in conflict zones or in multi-ethnic societies (see the report from the Sarawak Museum Department) points to the potential of museums to contribute to this "culture of peace". Likewise, museums have the burden both of preservation and of presentation of history, a challenge in which the stakes of a "culture of peace" are directly involved (see the report from the National Heritage Institute in Tunis). There is much good news to report, both from the activities of national museums and from the growing phenomena of peace museums.3
All of this encouraging work does much to confirm the belief expressed by Federico Mayor, former Director-General of UNESCO, that "not only is a culture of peace both feasible and indispensable...it is already in progress".4 UNESCO's new Director-General, Mr Koichiro Matsuura has written that his war-time childhood "inspired me to commit myself to doing all that I could for world peace".5 This is the personal commitment that has sustained so many museum professionals and peace activists in the creation of dedicated museums of peace as well as a "culture of peace" within "conventional" museums.

1. T.M. Duffy, 'Civic Zones of Peace' in Peace Review: A Transnational Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1997, pp. 199-205.
2. T.M. Duffy, 'The Peace Museum Concept' in Museum International (UNESCO), Vol. XLVI, No. 1, 1993, pp. 4-8.
3. T.M. Duffy, 'Exhibiting Peace' in Peace Review: A Transnational Quarterly, Vol. 5. No. 4, 1993, pp. 487-493.
4. Federico Mayor, in UNESCO and a Culture of Peace: Promoting A Global Movement, (UNESCO, Paris, 1995) esp. p 5.
5. Koichiro Matsuura, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 29 October 1999. p. 9.

Terence Duffy
Magee College, University of Ulster, Londonderry, BT48 7JL, Northern Ireland.
Tel. (33 1504) 375 223. Fax (33 1504) 375 207.
Email: TM.Duffy@ulst.ac.uk

More articles around the theme:

  The Sarawak Museum - A century of multi-ethnic Sarawak
National Museum of the Bardo - Interwoven histories in the Mediterranean basin

Updated: 20 September 2005